Mr. Speaker, I should like to address a question to the Minister of Justice (Mr. Garson). As the United States have put into force the trading with the enemy act with regard to funds going to communist China, has the Department of Justice considered putting into force the defence of the realm act with regard to Canadian funds going to communist China?
Mr. Speaker, I should like to direct a question to the Minister of Trade and Commerce (Mr. Howe) or to the Minister of National Revenue (Mr. McCann), or probably both, in view of the fact that I have had representations from some labour men in my riding who are employed making parts for refrigerators. They claim that last year less than 500 refrigerators came from the United States whereas this year the number is 98,000, and that they are affected by having lay-offs in the plant owing to this fact. I was wondering whether the minister has had any similar representations from any other sections of the country.
Topic: LABOUR CONDITIONS
Subtopic: IMPORTATION OF REFRIGERATORS
Sub-subtopic: LAY-OFFS IN CANADIAN PLANTS
AMENDMENT TO FORBID THE FIXING OF SPECIFIC OR MINIMUM RESALE PRICES
The house resumed, from Wednesday, December 19, consideration of the motion of Mr. Garson for the second reading of Bill No. 36, to amend the Combines Investigation Act, and the amendment thereto of Mr. Fulton.
Mr. Speaker, on the evening just before the big storm I was on my feet addressing the house on the question of this particular bill. This morning I propose to curtail my remarks materially in order that the business may be proceeded with. What I have to say will redirect the attention of the house to the legislation that has been before us.
To recapitulate briefly what I said the other evening, I had drawn attention to the fact that, on October 9, an indication had been given that legislation would be brought down dealing with this particular subject and that it was not until December 17 that the bill appeared before the house. I was going on from that point to indicate that there was a serious weakness in this legislation. I had intended making a comparison between legislation which has in it good features and meets with general approval and legislation which does not meet with general approval and which therefore must, on the face of it, be considered to be unsound.
Resuming my remarks at that point, I would say -that we have had evidence in this session that legislation that has met with general approval has passed through this house without great delay. There has been full debate and discussion, but no great delay. An example of that is the legislation dealing with pensions for disabled veterans. But I point out to the Minister of Justice (Mr. Garson) that there are many examples. to show that this legislation does not meet with general approval. The lengthy debate that has ensued upon it is one bit of evidence. The fact that supporters of the government side have risen to express their lack of approval of this legislation is another indication, and the general public reaction, showing a divided opinion throughout the country, indicates that this is definitely contentious legislation, and contentious legislation normally gets a rough passage through the House of Commons, as is quite proper.
Combines Investigation Act
Along with many members of the public, I was not very well informed with regard to the subject of resale price maintenance, until this debate was entered upon in this house and the committee held its varying sittings. My first reaction to the subject must have been the reaction of many people. I thought that something should be done about it. Then I discovered that resale price maintenance affected only a small part of the retail business, and I modified my opinion. I noticed from the report that in the early stages Mr. McGregor said, when asked a question as to how extensive was this practice, that he had heard the figure of 5 per cent, 10 per cent, 15 per cent and perhaps 30 per cent. That changes the picture for one who is looking at it for the first time. Subsequently, figures were produced showing that it was in the drug business that resale price maintenance was more extensive than say in the grocery business. Then I discovered that this practice had been in existence for a great many years, and I wondered why no action had been taken before. Why was this particular moment of time selected for action on resale price maintenance?
During the course of the sittings of the committee hearing and from members who were on it and subsequently in debate in the house here I discovered that not all the evidence was heard by the committee and not all the submissions that were to be presented to that committee were considered or heard. That raised a doubt in my mind as to the effectiveness of the work of the committee, and of the value of the legislation that was proposed. I read with the greatest interest Mr. McGregor's submission to the committee. I naturally, as members of the public do, respect his judgment in matters of this kind because of his lengthy experience; but I did notice that Mr. McGregor, after 25 years' experience with combines investigations, with knowledge of resale price maintenance, was not aware of the extent of the practice. At page 607 of the committee's evidence, at the top of the page, in reply to a question put to Mr. McGregor, asking him about the effect the proposed legislation would have on the cost of living, he made this answer:
Mr. St. Laurent had in mind, I presume, that a very inconsiderable number of items that are included in the cost of living index are in the price maintained area. After all, resale price maintenance does affect only one segment of all retail selling.
Q. What percentage? A. I have heard estimates from 10 to 15 to 30 per cent.
Q. You don't know definitely? A. No, I don't.
If Mr. McGregor does not know I certainly do not know, and I imagine the general public does not know, and it did occur to
me that surely a committee investigating this matter should have been able to bring out the evidence to indicate the extent of this practice. Reading Mr. McGregor's evidence I noticed he was of the opinion that there were too many outlets which, again in his opinion, were sustained by resale price maintenance. That is, he intimated that there were some stores operating in the country whose existence perhaps could be maintained only because of the advantage the storekeeper gained by having on his shelves articles sustained in price by resale price maintenance. Well, that I judged was an opinion, and perhaps the opinion of other people would be just as valuable or of some value in offsetting Mr. McGregor's opinion. If there has been an increase in the number of outlets, the number of retail stores, you would have to consider in connection with that the increase in the population. You cannot just take a figure and say, well, there are several hundred or a thousand more stores than there were a few years ago, without at the same time deciding on what has been the extent of the increase in the population. So it seemed to me that that was not a particularly weighty opinion, and I was a bit disturbed-I do not want to do any injustice to Mr. McGregor- at what appears from the evidence as perhaps a lack of concern on his part as to whether some of these outlets, as they were called, should be discontinued. Then again I began to consider in my mind the possible effects of this legislation, and I looked to see what Mr. McGregor would say with regard to that. I found that he said it might have a pretty disturbing effect for the time being- Well, that means that conditions, if they would not be chaotic-perhaps that is too wide a term to use-nevertheless if rather upsetting conditions would prevail for a considerable period of time among the retail merchants, that, I think, is a bit unsettling to everybody who is concerned with stability within our society.
I do not think any great benefit would result to our country if pretty disturbing effects are felt by the passage of this legislation and the abolition of resale price maintenance. It is for that reason I would suggest that certain delay might very well be considered until all the implications of the possible effects of this legislation have been considered. The small retail merchant, I know, from lengthy experience in small towns and in cities, is a person whose position deserves consideration and a certain amount of protection. The retail merchant, as has been pointed out-I do not want to repeat all the things that have been said before-
in most of our cities and towns occupies a commanding position. Certainly in any town in which I have lived the retail merchant is a solid citizen. He has land and owns property in the business section of the town. He owns residential property, and is interested in the future of the community in which he lives. He takes a keen interest in the development of that community, and frequently is to be found on municipal councils and school boards.
If there is some advantage to be gained by the retail merchant through resale price maintenance, an advantage that has cost the consumer something extra-and this has not yet been proved to my satisfaction-but if that should be so, is it not a just and reasonable price to pay for a very effective and useful community service?
Those are some of the thoughts that have passed through my mind with regard to the retail merchant. I would not like to see his position disturbed. In the constituency I have the honour to represent there exists one of the greatest shopping centres in Canada. I refer to the celebrated Portage avenue, which extends from Main street, westward to the city limits for a very considerable distance, and for most of that distance has on either side of it business establishments.
We have the large departmental stores, chain stores and all manner of smaller retail stores. Within that area there is a difference of opinion with regard to this particular matter. My understanding, from the evidence given to the committee and statements made here in the house, is that the large retail stores are not particularly concerned about the legislation and are not opposing it, whereas the smaller retail merchant is offering vigorous opposition. There is a conflict of interest there.
I have been hearing from my constituents on this matter. I have had more than thirty communications on the mimeographed form to which attention has been drawn earlier this session, and I have had between fifteen and twenty telegrams from businessmen who are seriously concerned with this problem. And the consumers, certainly with no more information than I had when I first came to this session, as well as information that emerged from the investigation by the committee of the house, and of course interested in a reduction in the cost of living, and being influenced by statements in the speech from the throne and other remarks earlier in the session, have naturally sent communications to me concerning this matter. They have hoped that this would be one way in which the cost of living would be reduced.
Combines Investigation Act
Retail merchants, with a greater knowledge of the facts, have sent telegrams and letters to me suggesting that it would not be a good thing, and that it should be opposed.
Again I suggest to the Minister of Justice (Mr. Garson) that there is a distinct conflict of opinion in the constituency I represent, and that that should be taken into account.
I shall conclude with just these few remarks. My consideration of the problem indicates that a very small segment of the problem of the retail merchant is concerned. The figure of 15 per cent has been suggested as one which might be acceptable. I have come to the conclusion that no effect will be felt by way of a reduction in the cost of living. I have reached the conclusion that the retail merchants would desire some protection against the loss-leader practice, if this legislation goes through. I have reached the further conclusion that the small retail merchant is in danger.
Consequently I suggest that in view of this divided opinion in the house and in the committee, and in the community at large, legislation such as this should be postponed for more complete investigation. If it is the determination of the government to pass it there should be more than just a verbal assurance that the small merchant will be protected. Something should be included in the measure to give him that protection.
In any case I think delay would be a sensible procedure, until the full implications of this proposed legislation are considered. So far as I am concerned, I say that three conditions should be satisfied before the legislation is passed:
The first condition I have laid down is this, to establish convincing evidence that resale price maintenance is detrimental to the public interest.
Secondly, produce evidence that the abolition of resale price maintenance will result in a decrease in the cost of living of the consumer.
Third, produce evidence that the abolition of resale price maintenance will not harm the smaller retailer.
Topic: COMBINES INVESTIGATION ACT
Subtopic: AMENDMENT TO FORBID THE FIXING OF SPECIFIC OR MINIMUM RESALE PRICES
Mr. Speaker, notwithstanding the suggestion made in the house recently by the hon. member for Rosetown-Biggar (Mr. Coldwell) and also the hon. member for Halton (Mr. Cleaver) that no purpose would be served by further debate on this measure, I wish to make one suggestion to hon. members that I believe warrants their consideration as to how far this house should go in approving the measure now before us.
Combines Investigation Act
This whole price discussion started in 1948 with a committee of the house set aside to debate it. From that, a royal commission was set up. Then the MacQuarrie committee was established to study, supposedly, the findings of the royal commission, and to carry forward the study of the Combines Investigation Act.
Then, this fall, just before the beginning of the session, apparently the Minister of Justice (Mr. Garson) was very anxious to get a report from the MacQuarrie committee, and asked that committee to give him an interim report with respect to combines legislation or, more particularly, price maintenance practices.
During the debate in reply to the speech from the throne the Prime Minister (Mr. St. Laurent) made this very clear statement on October 15, as reported at page 42 of Hansard:
I do not think that is going to have a very substantial effect on the index oi the cost of living.
That was very plain. It was a plain statement by the Prime Minister to the effect that, although the government was bringing forward this legislation, he did not believe it would have any great effect on the cost of living.
However, instead of bringing down the legislation earlier in the session the government set up another committee of the House and the Senate to study further, at tremendous cost to the country, this proposition. What did this committee accomplish? It Served only to confuse the issue and failed to make any material contribution or provide any enlightenment on the question. What happened yesterday can be described only as a club being held over the heads of members of our party.
Being a farmer I was interested in the brief presented by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, as was the hon. member for Rosthern (Mr. Boucher), but not quite from the same angle. I cannot understand the attitude taken by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture in connection with this particular matter. I should like to quote what I think is a very significant statement which appears in the brief, as follows.
The government of Canada for many years has recognized that modern industry has produced' a set of conditions which are radically different from, let us say, a hundred years ago, when economic activity was based largely on relatively small industrial units in active competition with one another. The steady growth of large scale business concerns has tended to create concentrations of economic power which fosters the growth of monopolistic competition or -imperfect competition rather than the simple competition of classical economic theory.
I think you, sir, and other members of this house, will agree with that old saying
that it is the little things that count. The very foundation of our country and of democracy is the little things. They are the backbone of any nation. The little farmers, the little businesses, the little industries, the little communities; they are the things that count. What has happened? In the last few years big farmers have been buying up little farmers; big business has been absorbing little businesses; big industries are buying up little industries; big communities are swallowing up little communities.
The normal business practice over the past one hundred years- it will probably be the same in the future-has been to eliminate opposition. This process has been speeded up considerably in the last few years, apparently with the blessing of this government. Is it that the government are not satisfied, and we are now being asked to add legislation to the statute books in this hasty manner which obviously will accelerate that procedure and centralize to the extreme?
This in effect is nothing more than "mailorder catalogue legislation" brought in by the now tabulated minister of make-believe to quiet down public concern over the increasing cost of living. The Prime Minister (Mr. St. Laurent) and one other member that I know of-I heard him say it-have indicated that it will have very little effect on the cost of living.
The federation of agriculture has always tried to get more stable markets for agricultural products by fixing the prices of various commodities. That has been the policy of our farm organizations for years, and I agree with it. But what has been sauce for the goose should be sauce fer -the gander. We cannot make fish of the one and flesh of the other. It is significant that at a time when we are moving toward the acceptance of policies designed to give price stability in the field of agricultural products a measure should come before this parliament that would outlaw such practices in another field.
Agricultural price legislation was brought into being after many years of study, a more detailed study than has been given to this measure having to do with the field of retail prices. The agricultural price legislation was given the closest study by agricultural groups from British Columbia to the maritimes, and by government officials, provincial and federal, all across the country. In some cases it has resulted in legislation which serves to establish even the retail price to the consumer. If it is right and lawful in the one field, why is it not so in the other?
I submit that if such ia large group of people in Canada have come to this conclusion after a very detailed study, more detailed than has been given to this measure, then we should tread lightly in destroying a similar practice in the general merchandising field in this country. I know the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Gardiner) is quite familiar with this trend in the marketing of agricultural products.
I am sure that this house will await with interest an explanation from him as to how this practice can be so good in one case and so detrimental in another, as his colleague, the Minister of Justice (Mr. Garson), would have us believe.
In closing I should like to give one note of warning to hon. members who may be still inclined to support this measure. If the government persists in placing this ill-considered, hasty and far-reaching legislation on the statute books of this country they will by their action sow the seeds that will eventually destroy the whole basis upon which the marketing of agricultural products and the stability of agricultural prices are presently being maintained.
Topic: COMBINES INVESTIGATION ACT
Subtopic: AMENDMENT TO FORBID THE FIXING OF SPECIFIC OR MINIMUM RESALE PRICES