Mr. Speaker, I do not propose to become involved in the argument concerning the acceptance of sterling, nor shall I discuss any of the intricacies of the parity price system about which we have heard so much in the last hour.
On April 28 I made a speech lasting about 30 or 40 minutes during the debate on the budget, and at that time I dealt with the
wheat situation. I do not propose today to repeat the argument I offered then in connection with our deplorable wheat marketing situation today.
I believe everyone in the house realizes that the situation of the western farmers is rapidly becoming serious. Their cash returns last year from the sale of grains were down to the extent of $350 or $400 million from what they were the year before, and it is inevitable that they will be down still further in the receipts from the last crop year. The reason is clear. Last year's crop in the western provinces was estimated at only 274 million bushels, and most of the wheat was of low quality. The price is down, and the net result of all this is that the amount of money the farmers will receive from marketing that crop-that is, the money they will receive this year-will be less than they got last year.
Therefore their cash position will be bad indeed. Combined with this is the flood situation in Saskatchewan, as well as the very wet conditions in Alberta and in parts of Manitoba. The result probably will be that a large acreage normally seeded to wheat and coarse grains will not be planted at all.
All these facts are known by the farmers in western Canada, and they are greatly worried. They are not greatly concerned with whether we can exchange wheat for sterling or for anything else. Their concern is with the wheat on hand, the surplus that has been piling up and which must be disposed of. Their concern is that this wheat must be sold so there will be room in the elevators for the crops they will produce in the coming growing season; that is, those who are going to be fortunate enough to produce crops.
They are far from satisfied with the statement by the Minister of Trade and Commerce concerning the disposal of our wheat. I am sure the statement he made yesterday will cause great consternation, particularly with respect to the final payment the farmers will receive and the further point that his statement offered them no hope. He did not indicate that the situation will be any better this year than it was last year.
The minister did say that the sales position is better this year than it was a year ago, but he did not say how much better. Let me point out that it would need to be a great deal better if it is to make any appreciable improvement in the situation now existing. In his statement of yesterday the minister said:
The wheat board and the government expect, and are fully prepared, to deal with competition in world wheat markets. The record shows that we have met this competition most effectively. Canada has retained a high proportion of commercial markets throughout the world.
But I submit that statement does not give comfort to the farmers in western Canada. The minister can say as often as he likes that he thinks we have maintained our position in commercial markets; but what the farmer wants is to be able to take the grain to the elevators and get cash for it to pay his ordinary living expenses. He is not going to be able to do that unless a great deal of the grain now in the elevators is cleared out.
I asked the minister this question yesterday: What steps has the government or the wheat board taken to meet this competition in world wheat markets of which he speaks?
The minister replied:
Very aggressive selling in every world market; we have agents in every world market. I believe that considering the fact we are selling our wheat for cash and others are giving it away, our position has been very well maintained.
What does it tell any farmer in western Canada, what does it tell any member in the House of Commons, when the Minister of Trade and Commerce says, "Very aggressive selling in every world market; we have agents in every world market." So long as the wheat is not being moved in sufficient quantities to meet the needs of the farmers in western Canada, then I say the minister's answer is no answer at all. It seems to me that at this time he should go into more detail in telling the house what measures the government is taking or proposes to take to dispose of the wheat we have on hand. The general statement that we are conducting very aggressive selling methods means nothing at all, and it does no good.
It seems to me the minister and the government owe it to the farmers and the people of western Canada generally to take them into their confidence to a greater extent, and give something definite by stating what they are doing and what they think they can do to sell this grain.
Mr. Speaker, before the hon. member for Lethbridge proceeds to speak,
I wonder if I might be permitted to ask the minister a further question. I should like to come back to the question of selling goods for sterling in England. It comes to me as a tremendous surprise to be told that if one sells goods for sterling in England, the use of that sterling in England-that is, in Great Britain-can be restricted. That comes to me as an entire surprise, and I am wondering if I understood the minister correctly.
I can understand that sterling might be restricted so far as its use anywhere else in Europe was concerned. But with sterling received in transactions for goods bought in England, on deposit in English banks, to say the use of that is restricted in purchasing
goods in England comes as a surprise to me. Did I understand the minister to say that?
Yes. If a Canadian living in the dollar area wishes to sell goods for sterling, unless there is an arrangement with the exchequer changing the position, he can use that sterling only as the chancellor of the exchequer may from time to time permit.
Perhaps I might be permitted to relate a small example concerning a friend of mine. This person was visiting in England and had a sort of windfall in the form of sterling. He tried to deposit that sterling in a Canadian bank, but the Canadian bank would not have it at all. Finally he gave it to his lawyer, and his lawyer instructed him that he could use it to pay his personal expenses, such as hotel bills and the like. But he was told that if he bought a necktie or a suit of clothes with it he would be subject to heavy penalty.
The use of sterling by people living outside the sterling area is very closely regulated; and to say that we can sell our wheat for sterling and do what we like with the sterling
well, unless there is a prior arrangement to that effect, it just is not workable.
It all depends upon where the money came from. If you have an account in a Canadian bank that account would be established by a deposit of dollars. If you wish to trade in England and make a profit, and put that in your bank, you cannot spend that as you like, I assure you.
There again the case the minister has made seems slightly different. This is a case which may have some special aspects. The money may have been received for some special purpose. I am talking of the ordinary business transaction. A sale is made in England; a citizen outside of England acquires sterling in England and has it in an English bank. The minister says he cannot use that because of certain restrictions.
Mr. Speaker, I had not intended to participate in this discussion. It was my intention to say what I have to say on the agriculture estimates, but it seems to me that some things have been said that merit a certain amount of attention.
It must be recognized, Mr. Speaker, that the farmers, the ordinary rank and file farmers on the western plains of Canada, are in open competition with farmers in the United States and in other areas of the world. While this government puts handicaps upon our farmers, the governments of other countries support their farmers with advantages. Therefore it must be obvious that Canadian farmers are on their way to destruction unless something miraculous occurs.
I have several little excerpts which I think I will read for the benefit of the hon. member for Vancouver South (Mr. Philpott) and the others who think that the farmers are asking for something unusually outrageous, and some seem to think that. I hold in my hand the Wheat Pool Budget for April 29, 1955. I am going to read one or two little passages which will show the people of Canada just what is what in the world today in respect of wheat. I quote:
Over 96 per cent of the world's wheat crop is produced and marketed under price supports or other forms of official incentive and planning, according to a survey made by the United States department of agriculture.
We seem to think that when the farmers here ask for any kind of assistance they are out of bounds. I continue:
Such measures are in effect in countries producing 6-5 billion of the world's 6-8 billion bushels of wheat last year, and cover virtually all of the wheat moving into international trade.
That is the wheat with which our wheat must compete, with no assistance at all from our government or from anyone else, with handicaps in every direction in the way of shortage of box cars, marketing quotas and all sorts of things. The farmers in the west,
in my constituency and in other constituencies, are trying to keep alive under all these handicaps in these terrible times, with the prices of everything they buy up, with machinery prices going up and with credit restrictions placed on them. I do not see why the Minister of Trade and Commerce cannot visualize this sort of thing. Would to goodness he could be out there on a farm for 15 years so he could learn something about the realities of farming, instead of sitting idly here and listening to other people's comments. I do not want to be too hard on him, but I do not want him to be too hard on the farmers, either.
Let me give another quotation farther down the page:
In most cases, including France, the United States and Argentina, this involves an export subsidy.
That refers to the assistance. The comment is made:
It should be noted that in Canada no such subsidy is paid on exports.
Let the minister face that set of circumstances as a businessman. He makes beautiful, plausible speeches here that are just as false as falsehood itself when applied to actual reality.
Let me read another quotation from the Alberta Wheat Pool Budget of April 22, 1955:
United States Exports Subsidies
Selling American surpluses is an expensive business, reports the international federation of agricultural producers. A study of the cost to the American government and the price it gets in the world market for wheat indicates a heavy loss is sustained on each deal under the United States surplus disposal program.
In the case of wheat sold to Yugoslavia recently, the United States got a little more than $1.80 a bushel in terms of Yugoslav currency. For that same bushel, the cost to the Commodity Credit Corporation amounted to $3.20. That includes the support price it gave for the wheat and storage costs. Consequently on each bushel of wheat sent to Yugoslavia, the United States lost $1.40. This does not count the cost of ocean transportation paid by Commodity Credit Corporation, or the difference involved in accepting local currency instead of dollars.
I sympathize with the minister when he says we in Canada do not feel that we can go any further in all these supports, but what does he think the farmer is doing? He imagines that the western farmer is performing all sorts of miracles, and at the same time he must pay his income tax, all his bills, raise his family, and do every other thing that needs to be done. I absolutely marvel at the unreality of the attitude adopted by the cabinet ministers.
Before I go on with another subject I want to point out this. I have urged now for two years, Mr. Speaker, that the government adopt a policy under which assistance would
be given to the farmers to enable them to build approved storage on their farms, and that when their wheat was stored in that approved storage the government would pay the farmers, or advance a liberal loan of so much a bushel on such wheat. The government said, "We cannot afford it". Well, what about the farmer? I suppose he can afford everything. They take the most preposterous attitude that you can conceive of, these ministers.
Last year I suggested to the Minister of Trade and Commerce that he might take the money out of the Bank of Canada with which to build the storage for the farmers and pay an advance on the wheat. The minister simply replied that the Bank of Canada, poor little thing, could not stand the strain. But the individual farmer can stand it. How do members of the government get sense out of their position? If they would adopt this method of farm storage-