January 16, 1970

ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS

FINANCE. TRADE AND ECONOMIC AFFAIRS


Fifth report of Standing Committee on Finance, Trade and Economic Affairs, in French and in English-Mr. Clermont. [Editor's Note: Text of foregoing report appears in today's Votes and Proceedings.]


CONSUMER AFFAIRS

SUSPENSION OF INCREASE BY EATON'S AND SIMPSON'S IN CHARGE ACCOUNT INTEREST RATES

LIB

Edgar John Benson (Minister of Finance)

Liberal

Hon. E. J. Benson (Minister of Finance):

Mr. Speaker, members will have noticed a news item in the press yesterday to the effect that two major retail establishments in Canada were planning increases in their interest charges on certain charge accounts. I wish to inform the House that I have been in touch with the two companies and that each has agreed to suspend its decision in this matter until March, pending the outcome of the Prices and Incomes Commission's current discussions with the business and professional community aimed at limiting price increases. I wish to express the government's appreciation of the co-operative response of these two companies.

Topic:   CONSUMER AFFAIRS
Subtopic:   SUSPENSION OF INCREASE BY EATON'S AND SIMPSON'S IN CHARGE ACCOUNT INTEREST RATES
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WEIGHTS AND MEASURES

TABLING OF WHITE PAPER ON CONVERSION TO METRIC SYSTEM

LIB

Jean-Luc Pepin (Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce)

Liberal

Hon. Jean-Luc Pepin (Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce):

Mr. Speaker, before tabling it, I would like to comment on the white paper entitled "Proposal for Metric Conversion in Canada". In this paper the

government sets out its proposed general policy for conversion to the metric system of measurement from the traditional inch-pound system. To quote from the white paper:

The government believes that adoption of the metric system is ultimately inevitable-and desirable -for Canada. We also consider it appropriate for the government to assume a leading role in the planning for and in the implementation of this change.

This matter is of direct concern to all Canadians, to our industry and to all levels of government.

Today in Canada, although the metric system and units such as metres and grams are being used in many important sectors, it is the inch-pound system which predominates. In the world at large, however, the great majority of countries have already adopted the metric system or are now in the process of converting to it.

The white paper addresses itself to the importance of timing in connection with metric conversion in Canada and to the complexities involved. For example, in a modern industrial country such as ours, there will be costs associated with a move to the metric system. These costs will be offset by benefits which are expected to accrue from metrication. They will also be reduced to the extent that the change takes place over a reasonable period of time in relation to the real needs in the various sectors of activity in Canada. We must be aware of the possibility of incurring even greater costs if we do not start to plan now for the ultimate adoption of the metric system.

Metric units today form the accepted basis for international measurement and standardization. A country employing the metric system is, therefore, in a favourable position in an increasingly interdependent world economy. The countries of the European Common Market are long established users of the metric system. Both Britain and Japan, two of Canada's leading trading partners, have already embarked on a changeover. The United States, our principal customer, is now conducting an extensive study of this subject.

As a matter of fact, just four countries- Canada, United States, Australia and New

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January 16, 1970

Tabling of Paper on Metric System Zealand-are still using the inch-pound system at this time. Canada's ability to maintain and expand its vital export trade with countries in the metric sphere will directly benefit from the move we have decided to make.

Changing to the metric system will have important benefits for the Canadian consumer. These benefits will derive principally from the inherent simplicity of the system and its convenience in general use. The ease in converting from one metric unit to another -from kilograms to grams, for example,-will simplify the arithmetic in making value comparisons of competitive consumer products.

[DOT] (11:10 a.m.)

For these reasons and many others which are indicated in the white paper, as I have remarked earlier, the government believes that the adoption of the metric system is ultimately inevitable and desirable for Canada. However, no legislative action is contemplated which would make mandatory a general use of metric in place of inch-pound units.

The white paper outlines what is the start of a long process on the road to metrication. It proposes certain organizational arrangements to plan for and encourage conversion. For example, the government intends to appoint a preparatory commission which will act at the federal level to co-ordinate the study and planning. A mandate will also be given to the proposed standards council of Canada-a bill on this subject is now before the House-so that it may fill a similar role in the more limited area of its responsibilities, that is, the industrial sector and physical standards. Planning and preparation will be encouraged so as to obtain the maximum benefits at the minimum cost to the consumer, to industry and to government at all levels.

Our intention is to study and consult extensively and so to determine what is the best process for this transition. It will be necessary, for example, to decide on the timing of changes appropriate to each individual sector of the economy. In issuing this white paper the government is inviting comments from all interested parties. We hope to obtain the widest possible involvement and co-operation of the community as a whole. Participation of other levels of government, of industry, and of the public at large in this effort will be welcomed and will be of the greatest importance in the attainment of the ultimate objectives for Canada in this area of measurement and standards.

Mr. Speaker, I wish now to table, in both official languages, under Standing Order 41(2), copies of a white paper entitled "Proposal for Metric Conversion in Canada".

Topic:   WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Subtopic:   TABLING OF WHITE PAPER ON CONVERSION TO METRIC SYSTEM
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PC

Gerald William Baldwin (Official Opposition House Leader; Progressive Conservative Party House Leader)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. G. W. Baldwin (Peace River):

Mr. Speaker, I am appreciative of the courtesy of the minister in providing this statement to members of the opposition early enough so that, with their natural ability, they can become instant experts and make a reasonable reply. I say quite seriously that these statements on motions should really be commented on with light rather than with heat, and to receive a document in ample time to make an adequate reply is much better than receiving it, as we sometimes do, just five minutes before the time for making a response.

In keeping with the objective of nonpartisanship 1 might properly say that we on this side feel very much as the minister does. I think I am entitled to get in a little commercial for the hon. member for Mal-peque who has tabled a private member's bill calling for a metric system inquiry commission. I thought 1 might be entitled to say that at this time, Mr. Speaker.

Let me say at once that we will co-operate in our approach to the suggestions contained in the statement by the minister. There is no question at all that there is a movement in the world toward the adoption of the metric system, or the international system as it is more correctly defined. This is part of a whole movement toward international cooperation and I think we would be foolish if we did not recognize this and attempt to do something about it. I think it is correct to say, in the same spirit of non-partisanship, that the previous government under the leadership of the Right Hon. member for Prince Albert did undertake certain studies in this regard.

There have been a number of problems associated with this matter and I will deal with them very briefly. While there is no question that the jurisdiction lies with the federal government, I think we have to bring the provinces in from time to time because of the educational and other situations which will exist if we are ultimately going to change over to the metric system. Those of us who remember our school days when we were exposed to the metric system only to abandon it when we left school will realize how important it is that the educational systems of the

January 16, 1970 COMMONS

provinces be adapted to keep pace with what this government and the governments of the world are doing.

There is a division in the countries of the world today. By far the greatest number of countries have adopted the metric system, but we cannot forget, of course, that the countries which have retained the inch-pound system have by far a preponderance of the world's trade. We should think particularly of our trading relations with the United States, which of course is and has for some years been examining its position with regard to adoption of the metric system. Whether we like it or not, what we do must to a considerable extent is keep pace with what is being done in the United States. I think it might well be suicidal for us to adopt the metric system without considering what is being done in the United States. It is in connection with the dangers and difficulties with relation to trade that the greatest problems will be generated. In the world of pure science and academic research I think we can say that the metric system has largely been adopted and has world-wide ramifications now.

I agree that there must be a continuous and detailed study. We are prepared to co-operate with the government in this regard. Shortly after 1951, when the matter first came up for discussion in the United Kingdom, there was a considerable amount of examination and later the minister of technology submitted the whole question to a standing committee. I recognize that a committee of the House might not be best equipped from a technical standpoint to make a decision, but from the viewpoint of keeping the public abreast of what is going on I would strongly urge the minister to give some thought to having the white paper he tabled today submitted either to a special or to a joint committee so that there might be a continuous study and reports from time to time to this committee by the boards the minister proposes to set up.

Topic:   WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Subtopic:   TABLING OF WHITE PAPER ON CONVERSION TO METRIC SYSTEM
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NDP

Stanley Howard Knowles (N.D.P. House Leader; Whip of the N.D.P.)

New Democratic Party

Mr. Stanley Knowles (Winnipeg North Centre):

Mr. Speaker, like the hon. member for Peace River I should like to thank the Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce for having given us an advance copy of the white paper which he has now tabled and the statement he has just made to the House. Also like the hon. member for Peace River, I might indulge in a brief commercial by drawing the attention of the House to the fact that Bill C-42 on the Order Paper in the name of my colleague from Timiskaming calls for the 21611-181

DEBATES 2471

Tabling of Paper on Metric System introduction of the metric system. If my friends on our left have a similar bill, that will make it unanimous.

Speaking of the minister's courtesy in letting us have a copy of the paper and of his statement in advance, I think everyone knows that when this courtesy is extended to us it is usually extended to our friends of the Press Gallery as well. When I sat at the coffee table with some of our friends at ten o'clock this morning I found they were already applying their special talents and their superior intellect to some of the problems which would arise if we switched from the inch-pound system to the metric system. I did not understand all the things they were talking about.

Topic:   WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Subtopic:   TABLING OF WHITE PAPER ON CONVERSION TO METRIC SYSTEM
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?

An hon. Member:

Neither did they.

Topic:   WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Subtopic:   TABLING OF WHITE PAPER ON CONVERSION TO METRIC SYSTEM
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NDP

Stanley Howard Knowles (N.D.P. House Leader; Whip of the N.D.P.)

New Democratic Party

Mr. Knowles (Winnipeg North Centre):

Maybe not. One of them told me that when we switch to the new system a perfect figure, instead of being 36-24-36, would be 90-60-90. I gather some hon. members know what that means. In my own way of figuring things I thought about my friend the hon. member for York West and the hon. member for Edmonton Centre who, once this system comes into effect, will no longer have to give their weight in astronomical figures but will be down to 150 or even less, and some of us, of course, may disappear altogether.

[DOT] (11:20 a.m.)

Topic:   WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Subtopic:   TABLING OF WHITE PAPER ON CONVERSION TO METRIC SYSTEM
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?

Some hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

Topic:   WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Subtopic:   TABLING OF WHITE PAPER ON CONVERSION TO METRIC SYSTEM
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PC

Gerald William Baldwin (Official Opposition House Leader; Progressive Conservative Party House Leader)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Baldwin:

When we ski in Europe we will know what the measurements mean.

Topic:   WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Subtopic:   TABLING OF WHITE PAPER ON CONVERSION TO METRIC SYSTEM
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NDP

Stanley Howard Knowles (N.D.P. House Leader; Whip of the N.D.P.)

New Democratic Party

Mr. Knowles (Winnipeg North Centre):

assure hon. members that even if I am a ghost I intend to stay here.

Topic:   WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Subtopic:   TABLING OF WHITE PAPER ON CONVERSION TO METRIC SYSTEM
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PC

Gerald William Baldwin (Official Opposition House Leader; Progressive Conservative Party House Leader)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Baldwin:

As long as you do not get too holy.

Topic:   WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Subtopic:   TABLING OF WHITE PAPER ON CONVERSION TO METRIC SYSTEM
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NDP

Stanley Howard Knowles (N.D.P. House Leader; Whip of the N.D.P.)

New Democratic Party

Mr. Knowles (Winnipeg North Centre):

am trying to inch into this subject, Mr. Speaker, but I seem to be having difficulty.

Speaking seriously, however, as one of my colleagues at the press coffee table said this morning, whatever system we use the dimensions of the government's failure will be extreme. I think it is generally agreed that this is the kind of step Canada will have to take, and we agree with the statement made by the minister, both in the white paper and in his words to the House, that the decision is not one that can any longer be postponed.

January 16, 1970

Tabling of Paper on Metric System

It is quite true that there will be difficulties. Great expense will be involved and, as the hon. member for Peace River said, the change will reach right down to our educational system. Our children and grandchildren and those who come after them will have to spend not just a day or two on the metric system but will have to learn it all the way through. But even though there are difficulties connected with such a change, it is obvious that the advantages outweigh the difficulties and the cost and that we should move in this direction. Therefore it is good that some planning for it is being done.

As has already been said, very few countries in the world are on the inch-pound system, but it does happen that one of them is the giant alongside us, the United States of America. We in this party frequently suggest that we should not be influenced in certain matters by what they do in that country, but I think that in this matter we and our American friends will have to act together. I hope that the kind of public action being taken in Canada will be viewed by them as a lead and a suggestion to them that they should step up their studies and activities in this field as well.

We welcome the fact that, as the minister has said, there will be liaison with the provinces because they will be involved not only in the changes generally but with their particular effect on education. All told, we shall be glad to co-operate with the government in hastening the day when this change can be made with as little confusion as possible.

While we are making this kind of change, perhaps we might also do something about our cold temperatures. We might shift over from fahrenheit to centigrade. Some thought might also be given to a simplified world calendar that would make many of our computations much more comprehensible.

In general terms we thank the minister for giving us the information in advance, and we shall be happy to do what we can in connection with the work that needs to be done in preparation for a change to the metric system.

Topic:   WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Subtopic:   TABLING OF WHITE PAPER ON CONVERSION TO METRIC SYSTEM
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RA

Gilbert F. Rondeau

Ralliement Créditiste

Mr. Gilbert Rondeau (Shefford):

Mr. Speaker, I do not intend to repeat the comments of the previous speakers concerning the new policy of the federal government in connection with the metric system, but I would like in my turn to thank the minister who was kind enough to send us in good time copies of the

white paper on the conversion to the metric system, in order to enable us to study it in both languages, had any of us wished to do so.

The advantages of the metric system are known throughout the world. On account of its coherence and other recognized advantages, as, for example, its accuracy, the metric system is the only valid system for the measurement of values based on decimals.

As this system is the most exact there is and as it is becoming more and more widespread, I believe that, as it is proposed today, Canada should adopt it.

In North America, according to the white paper, the commercial gallon has two different values. The same difficulty arises in a number of other fields. The United Kingdom has recently adopted the metric system. Most countries of the world use it.

As a matter of fact, only four countries, as it is said in the white paper, have not yet officially adopted this system but are considering doing so in the near future.

The conversion to the metric system would bring problems. The government will have to act very carefully in this respect, because we could not adopt this system at a moment's notice. Yet, the government proposes to us this morning the creation of a commission with a view to preparing the Canadian economy to this conversion so that the transition will be so smooth as can be.

On page 8 of the report are indicated the disadvantages that would result from converting to this system too rapidly. It is also mentioned that this system should not be introduced without the provinces being consulted, and more especially the industrialists, for they will be the most affected by this change.

Here is an excerpt from page 8 and I quote:

that it is not essential that conversion should proceed equally and evenly in all sectors.

-To do so permits each sector of industry to assess the problems of conversion and consider practical solutions, including timing, without the inhibitions which compulsory immediate changes in physical standards would involve. Metric conversion may be conceived as a variety of programmes extending over periods of years as determined by the needs and problems in different sectors of the economy.

If the government wants to adopt the metric system by complying with these recommendations, we fully agree since it would permit all the sectors of the economy to adapt to the new situation and to carry out

January 16, 1970

the conversion process as soon as possible which is as necessary to Canada as to the other countries.

Topic:   WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Subtopic:   TABLING OF WHITE PAPER ON CONVERSION TO METRIC SYSTEM
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AGRICULTURE

January 16, 1970