January 22, 1973

NONE

Lucien Lamoureux (Speaker of the House of Commons)

No affiliation

Mr. Speaker:

Order, please. I should think that question ought to be answered by way of a statement on motions. The hon. member will appreciate, I am sure, that it is difficult for the Chair to allow that question to be answered now. Orders of the day.

Topic:   UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE
Subtopic:   PROVISION OF FUNDS TO PAY BENEFITS PENDING PASSAGE OF BILL
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GOVERNMENT ORDERS

FOOD PRICES


The House resumed, from Friday, January 19, consideration of the motion of Mr. Gray: That a Special Committee of this House be appointed to enquire into and make recommendations upon the trends in food prices in January 22, 1973



Canada and factors domestic and foreign which account for these trends; That 20 Members of the House of Commons to be designated by the House at a later date be the members of the Special Committee and that Standing Order 65(5) of the House of Commons be suspended in relation thereto; That the said Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records and examine witnesses; to sit during periods when the House stands adjourned; to report from time to time and to print such papers and evidence from day to day as may be deemed advisable; to delegate to sub-committees all or any of their powers except the power to report direct to the House; to engage the services of counsel, accountants and such other clerical and technical personnel as may be deemed necessary. And the amendment thereto of Mr. McGrath (page 477), and the amendment to the amendment of Mr. Harney (Page 478).


NDP

Frank Howard

New Democratic Party

Mr. Frank Howard (Skeena):

Mr. Speaker, it is with a little reluctance that we agreed to support the motion of the Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs (Mr. Gray), partly because we doubt very much that the government is serious about dealing with the question of food prices and partly because we doubt that the Conservative party is serious about tackling this problem. That is why we proposed the amendments we have proposed and the additional ones that I think will be proposed. We wanted to put some teeth in the structure of the committee so it will be able to examine the question of rising food prices and make some clear, definitive recommendations.

Perhaps I might mention very briefly that we have before us an amendment and our own sub-amendment. I think the amendment for the three-month time limit on the activities of the committee is designed with no other purpose in mind than to see the committee die at the end of the three month period having accomplished nothing. The contemplation of the Conservative party is that within three months the committee will terminate and that there will be nothing further to be examined. I expect that they have either a crystal ball, which is probably the case, or that they intend to destroy whatever effectiveness the committee might have. That is why we moved the amendment we are now considering.

We envisage the possibility of continuing operations of this committee with the hope that it can examine many aspects of food prices within a minimum time following the establishment of the committee. Every Conservative member who has spoken, as I listened to them in any event, attempted to discredit the potential of the committee. They tried to establish doubts in the minds of everyone who listened to them by suggesting that the committee structure would be of no value. I think that is the prelude to their concept of the committee and what it may or may not be able to accomplish.

I see that the Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs (Mr. Andras) is not in the House at the moment, but I am sure he will be listening somewhere or will read these remarks at some time. In closing his remarks, he said that he would be quite prepared to appear as a witness before the committee to give it whatever information he had in his possession or that was available to him.

I wonder seriously about the value of that. If the Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs has information which is of value, and which discloses what is taking place

Food Prices Committee

within the food processing industry, a more important course than presenting it to the committee would be for him to act on it. What would be more favourable would be for the minister and the government to say they know what is taking place and take some legislative action. If on the other hand the minister is not in possession of valuable information, then why should he appear before the committee with it? Why should he bother the committee by presenting something to it which does not appear to be of any value whatever? This is another reason I doubt the sincerity of the government in proposing this particular committee.

Let me consider some of the aspects of the Department of Consumer and Corporate Affairs. I refer not to the corporate affairs section of the department, but the consumer affairs part. We all know that the purpose of the corporate affairs section of the department is to maintain an even flow of campaign funds into the treasury of the party to which the hon. minister belongs. The consumer affairs section has tipped its hand by indicating it is largely an apologist for rising prices, an explainer-away of exorbitant prices, and really is not serious about trying to deal with the problem. I want to make a brief reference to the same thing the minister mentioned when he spoke, namely coffee. In one of the publications of the minister's department, "Consumer Contact" of November, 1972, there is reference to coffee prices. Let me indicate what that reference is:

We had a letter the other day from a Member of Parliament complaining about the price Canadians pay for coffee. Our reply was enlightening but hardly satisfying. The truth is that we can't do much about it, because we don't grow coffee.

I suggest that exemplifies the response of the whole department. It just throws up its hands and says it is none of its business; it cannot do anything about it because coffee is grown outside the country. Therefore, it is powerless to take any action whatever in respect of it.

In the same publication on the front page, there is a paragraph devoted to the production of honey. Under the heading "Bees Do It", and I submit this is probably the most enlightening thing in the whole pamphlet as everybody knows that honey is produced in Canada, the article states:

You've probably noticed that domestic prices for honey have shot up in the last year.

It indicates that the price of No. 1 white honey increased by 24.4 per cent from July, 1971 to July 1972. Then, there is a long explanation of how bees do it and what happens. The article winds up by saying this:

Consumers are naturally annoyed at these price increases as it places an additional strain on the family budget.

What insight. I do not know how the minister or any of his colleagues could possible know that, but that is what it says. Probably the same man who said the department could not do anything about the price of coffee because we do not grow it here went on to say in respect of honey prices:

The best advice we can offer consumers is to shop wisely for less expensive products-

The taxpayer has to pay for this drivel that comes out of the consumer affairs section of the minister's department. I ask again in a rhetorical way, what possible value could

Food Prices Committee

there be in the minister appearing before the committee, unless it is to use this opportunity as a kind of grandstand on which to make some other simpering declarations about how concerned he is with food prices.

I think also that the Conservative party approach to the matter is suspect.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   FOOD PRICES
Sub-subtopic:   MOTION TO APPOINT SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE
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?

An hon. Member:

Come on.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   FOOD PRICES
Sub-subtopic:   MOTION TO APPOINT SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE
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NDP

Frank Howard

New Democratic Party

Mr. Howard:

The hon. member for horsefoot-I am sorry, Crowfoot (Mr. Horner) nods his head in agreement, that there is something suspect about it.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   FOOD PRICES
Sub-subtopic:   MOTION TO APPOINT SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE
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?

Some hon. Members:

Oh, oh!

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   FOOD PRICES
Sub-subtopic:   MOTION TO APPOINT SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE
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NDP

Frank Howard

New Democratic Party

Mr. Howard:

Perhaps I should point out that it is more than suspect, it is hypocritical. The hon. member for Crowfoot and all his buddies, most of them in the front benches, who were here when the right hon. gentleman from Prince Albert (Mr. Diefenbaker) was Prime Minister, were confronted with the question of rising food prices. They took that time honoured Conservative way of dealing with the situation. They appointed a royal commission. In fact, that was the traditional way in which the Conservative party approached every problem. The only time they got into trouble was when they ran out of party hacks to appoint to royal commissions.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   FOOD PRICES
Sub-subtopic:   MOTION TO APPOINT SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE
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PC

John (Jack) Henry Horner

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Horner (Crowfoot):

We never appointed royal commissions.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   FOOD PRICES
Sub-subtopic:   MOTION TO APPOINT SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE
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NDP

Frank Howard

New Democratic Party

Mr. Howard:

The right hon. gentleman from Prince Albert, when he was Prime Minister, appointed a royal commission. Someone said he did not. The hon. member for Crowfoot obviously was not paying attention at that time because, as is the case now, he was not interested in the subject matter. Dr. Stewart was chairman of that commission. In any event, a royal commission was appointed in respect of the price spreads of food in 1959. The report was published in blue. That should be recognized by the hon. gentlemen from the Conservative party.

Before anyone says, "Oh, but that is old stuff; that is not like us new Tories", let me point out that this whole front bench comprises the same gang who were here in 1959 and who hid from that subject. The hon. member for Prince Edward-Hastings (Mr. Hees) and the hon. member for Malpeque (Mr. MacLean) who are looking at me now were in that cabinet. They knew, and they have read that report. Let me tell you what the report had to say about the situation. It recommended the establishment of a permanent council on prices, productivity and incomes which would involve a review of the whole area of the food industry and which would bring in an early report to the Governor in Council. What has happened to that recommendation? This was before the government was defeated. The Conservatives ran away from that recommendation like a cockroach shuttling out of the light, yet they have the audacity to stand up in this House-the same ones who in those years had the largest majority in the history of our country-and tell us they are concerned about food prices. I just do not believe them, Mr. Speaker.

Let me now talk about the Liberal and Conservative conspiracy. At that time the Minister of Justice was Davie

Fulton and the great leading Liberal light was Jack Pick-ersgill. The two of them, like long lost lovers who had not seen each other for years, embraced in the middle of this floor, put their arms around each other and gave the food industry in Canada the right to sit down and conspire to fix prices. They put that into the legislation. It is in the Combines Investigation Act at the present time. At that time in 1960 the Liberals and Conservatives conspired. Incidentally, the amendment which was accepted was introduced by Jack Pickersgill. The Combines Investigation Act provides that it is an offence to fix prices except that, I believe it is in subsection (4) of section 32, it provides:

... The court shall not convict the accused if the conspiracy, combination, agreement or arrangement relates only to the export of articles from Canada.

Does anyone mean to tell me that the fish-packing companies and food processing companies which are able to sit down and work out a price-fixing agreement for the export market forget all about that when they place goods on the shelves in Canada? They fix prices and this practice is sanctioned by the law. It is sanctioned by the Liberals and Conservatives. That is why I doubt the honesty and sincerity of the hon. gentlemen who belong to these parties and who have spoken in support of this measure.

One reason given by the hon. member for Northumber-land-Durham (Mr. Lawrence) for moving his amendment in respect of the Senate was that the House of Commons committee must remain in Ottawa to examine these questions. I hope the committee does not remain in Ottawa. I hope it goes out into the country. I hope the members of the committee travel up north and into other such areas where they can see what it is like to spend a fortune on a can of beans, what it is like to live month after month on canned, processed or dried food. The only time people in such areas see fresh vegetables is when the carrots are like rubber and a head of lettuce looks like a dirty shirt which has been worn for a week. And these items are sold at exorbitant prices.

I ask the members of the committee and the government to consider this. I suggest they find out what it is like for the housewife and wage earner to have to attempt to make ends meet not only because we have a steady increase in food prices in the southern part of Canada but also because this situation exists in rural areas and in northern Canada. They should see what people have to put up with in those areas. I hope the Conservatives will retract the suggestion that members of the committee remain here in the comfort of the air conditioned committee rooms in these buildings and tell the consumers to come here instead of going out to see what the consumers have to endure. In that way the members of the committee would learn what the consumers have to put up with and would not be dealing with dry, impersonal statistics, cost items and figures in the comfort of the rooms of these buildings. I believe it is shameful to suggest to the consumers across this land that we are not prepared to go out and speak to them. It is shameful for the Conservative party to say to those people that they should travel great distances to see us.

January 22, 1973

There is no purpose in extolling again and again the importance of this question. Everybody knows the statistics in respect of food prices. There is no purpose in filling the records with additional statistics. This has been done before and probably will be done again. I believe that, more than anything else, we must think in terms of this committee coming up with an immediate answer in respect of staple items of food. I am not referring to chocolate-covered ants or butterfly wings or all these other rare, exotic foods which exist, or boiled cockroaches as my friend behind me suggests. I want to see some action in respect of bread, butter, meat, eggs, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables which are so necessary for a growing child and which many people are being denied. These are the things at which the committee must look. It should come up with some immediate recommendations and suggestions to deal with the price of those things, and then continue its deliberations into the more unusual aspects of food prices.

I suggest that the committee consider breaking into subcommittees so that those members who are afraid to go out and speak to the consumers may remain in Ottawa, look at the books, examine the corporate records and ascertain how the food industry is able, as the items proceed through the various segments of the chain to the retail shelves, to add an exorbitant percentage of markups, even within the same company. Let us examine that. Let us see what the middleman is extracting and why the farmer is receiving the least possible amount of the food dollar. Let us see why the fisherman does not get a fair share of the food dollar. Let us find out who the middle man is and inhibit his ability and his opportunity to cheat Canadian prime producers, farmers, fishermen as well as consumers.

Let us have another part of that committee, do as the committee on agriculture did a few years ago. Let them out into the country and see what it is like in these areas; let them feel in their guts what it is like to have to stand in a grocery store with a few dollars available to you and debate which is the cheapest type of carbohydrate food that you can buy. You do not have to debate about buying protein food or buying beef or steaks. I know families, as I am sure other members in the House do, who do not see a steak from one year's end to the next. The hon. member for Northwest Territories (Mr. Firth) will confirm that there is what Indian people refer to as "Indian steak". Indian steak is baloney. That is about the limit of the meat purchases that many families can make. We all know that baloney is not a very nutritious food as compared with natural food products such as steaks, roasts and chops which are foreign to these people. Let the committee break up into sub-committees and go out into the country to see what the Canadian people have to endure. Perhaps we should even demand that members of the House try to live for a month on the income on which dozens and dozens of families in this country have to exist. Perhaps then they would come back into the comfort of the committee room and really try to write a report which would contain recommendations that were meaningful to the consumers of this nation.

Food Prices Committee

If the committee is going to follow the Tory line, sit here in Ottawa and have formal presentations made to it, they will not get the least understanding of what the situation is, and will not be able to make any worthwhile recommendations.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   FOOD PRICES
Sub-subtopic:   MOTION TO APPOINT SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE
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LIB

Paul Edmund McRae

Liberal

Mr. Paul E. McRae (Fort William):

Mr. Speaker, I suppose because I am a new member I do not share the scepticism of some of my colleagues who told me that the Conservative party does not have a policy with respect to rising food prices. Perhaps I am more charitably disposed, but I have always felt that in fact they do have a policy but they have kept it secret very effectively.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   FOOD PRICES
Sub-subtopic:   MOTION TO APPOINT SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE
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PC

Walter Gilbert Dinsdale

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Dinsdale:

Ho, ho, ho!

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   FOOD PRICES
Sub-subtopic:   MOTION TO APPOINT SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE
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LIB

Paul Edmund McRae

Liberal

Mr. McRae:

They have kept it secret throughout the last election campaign and through most of this debate. I must commend the hon. member for Northumberland-Durham (Mr. Lawrence) for his very fine rhetorical effort and for the fact that he spoke for 20 or 30 minutes during which time he was able to keep this secret. But you can imagine my surprise when, on Friday afternoon, the hon. member for Ottawa West (Mr. Reilly) blew the secret, at least I believe he did. He said: We must regulate wages and prices. I believe that that is the secret policy of the Conservative party. The reason I believe this is that the policy commends itself to that party. It is basically simple. It is not encumbered by extraneous ideas about, for example, how you control profits. It is not encumbered by abstractions such as information on world food prices. It is not encumbered by concerns about nutrition, and so on. It is a simple policy to deal with a simple problem as if we were still in 1950. But this is 1973. There are no simple problems, and therefore there are no simple answers.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   FOOD PRICES
Sub-subtopic:   MOTION TO APPOINT SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE
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PC

Walter Gilbert Dinsdale

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Dinsdale:

The problems have been compounded by the government.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   FOOD PRICES
Sub-subtopic:   MOTION TO APPOINT SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE
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LIB

Paul Edmund McRae

Liberal

Mr. McRae:

I was much more impressed with the words of the hon. member for Vancouver-Kingsway (Mrs. Maclnnis) and her suggestion for the establishment of a prices review board. She is well known in the field of food and consumer prices, and I think there is some merit in this solution. I do not know whether it should be adopted in exactly the way it is suggested, but there are some short-term problems which may be solved by the method she suggested.

There are other matters which I hope the committee will consider, such as the quantity of distribution outlets in this country. These are factors which bear on food prices. I believe the committee will have to give the hon. member's suggestion very serious consideration, and if it agrees with that suggestion, I will certainly support it.

As I mentioned earlier, we are living in a far more complex time than the 1950's to which I referred, and there are no basic and simple answers to this problem. I welcome the establishment of this committee, first, because I think it is time we put before the Canadian public and before members of the House the complexity of the problem of rising food prices in the world. I refer to world food prices because this is the crux of the whole problem. We are no longer dealing with a simple matter of shortages of food in Canada or rising prices in Canada.

January 22, 1973

Food Prices Committee

We are dealing with global price increases. We have been told by such people as Brock Chisholm, by groups from the United Nations, by population experts and by a recent publication called "Limits to Growth" coming from M.I.T, that a growing population will create growing food problems. I contend that we are at a point where we will have to face these particular problems.

I think there are two aspects to world food problems that we must consider. First and foremost is the growing number of human beings on this earth. We are told that the world's population will double in 33 years, that it is growing at the rate of 2.1 per cent per year, and that that exponential growth rate will give us a population of around seven billion around the turn of the century, as opposed to 3.6 billion in 1970. We are told that the growth rate itself is rising. In the middle of the 17th century we had a growth rate of about .3 per cent; today it is 2.1 per cent. So, we have a massive problem. It is not such a great problem in areas of the world like Canada where the growth rate of the population is levelling off somewhat, but it is a great problem in many areas of the world where the population is still growing at an ever-increasing rate.

There is another problem in connection with the so-called affluent countries where the demand for food is growing at an excessive rate. This demand of the affluent nations on the food supply is serious. I hope the committee will take a real look at the food problem as a world problem, will take a look at the growing world population, and take a look at the excessive demands made by affluent nations on the supply of food.

I would make one or two suggestions to the committee as possible solutions. Canada, under the present Prime Minister (Mr. Trudeau) and government, has developed a very fine reputation in international circles. Mr. Speaker, we are a major producer of food. I think it would be a fine thing if, as a nation, we took it upon ourselves to present this problem in international circles and call for a world conference on food shortages, similar to the conference on the environment held in Sweden last spring, which we supported. Second, Mr. Speaker, I suggest that the committee take a good look at food supplies. I am convinced that there has been too much movement from the farms to the cities in Canada. I believe there are areas of the country which could still be farmed, and farmed in the future, thus helping to reverse that trend.

I am convinced also that as an affluent nation we have not done a good job in developing better food supplies in the non-affluent, non-industrialized parts of the world. Production of food in some of those areas has not grown as it should have, partly because the measures taken were too grandiose to suit the social patterns of the peoples living in those countries. More effective methods must be sought. In the non-industrialized nations of the world over the last ten years, per capita production of food has remained just about even. In Latin America and Asia the curve has remained almost unchanged, while I notice that in Africa in the last two years it has actually moved in a downward direction. We are not helping to increase supplies of food in those areas in any substantial way.

The third suggestion I make is that all the countries of the world, and this includes the affluent nations, need a great deal more information about the nutritional value of foods. There is much that can be done to substitute some foods that are cheap for other foods that are expensive. This is another area the committee could examine.

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I wish to repeat that I welcome the establishment of the proposed committee because I think it is time for us to put away simple answers to highly complex questions. This committee will give us an opportunity to start understanding the complexity of world food shortages. The committee should not recommend just one simple solution. I hope it will make attempts on several fronts to solve the problem.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   FOOD PRICES
Sub-subtopic:   MOTION TO APPOINT SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE
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PC

Stanley Kenneth Schellenberger

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Stan Shellenberger (Wetaskiwin):

Mr. Speaker, being one of the younger members of the House of Commons it gives me a great deal of pleasure to rise and speak. I am still slightly idealistic, however, and I wish members would stop talking, as some of the NDP and other people have been doing, and get right down to work on some of these problems.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   FOOD PRICES
Sub-subtopic:   MOTION TO APPOINT SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE
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NDP

Stanley Howard Knowles (N.D.P. House Leader)

New Democratic Party

Mr. Knowles (Winnipeg North Centre):

Question!

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   FOOD PRICES
Sub-subtopic:   MOTION TO APPOINT SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE
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?

Some hon. Members:

Hear, hear!

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   FOOD PRICES
Sub-subtopic:   MOTION TO APPOINT SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE
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January 22, 1973