Mr. Donald M. Fleming (Eglinton):
Mr. Speaker, some of us who in the debate on May 3 urged on the government that an opportunity should be provided for the house to debate trade policies in general and the Torquay agreements in particular welcome the opportunity afforded by.the present resolution to discuss these two very important topics.
It is just as well perhaps, Mr. Speaker, that the importance which the house attaches to subjects brought before it for discussion is not measured by the time actually spent on them; otherwise, so far as this session is concerned, it would appear that the house does not attach great importance to the subject of trade; for this is the first occasion that has been offered to the house to debate trade policies, so far as I recall, at the present session.
Trade, Mr. Speaker, has certainly lost none of its importance for Canada, and in approaching this subject we are approaching something which is part of the economic life-blood of our country. In the early post-war years we used to speak very freely about the fact that Canada had risen to the third place among the great trading nations of the world; that she was perhaps more dependent upon export markets for the employment of her people than any other country in the world; that three out of every eight persons in Canada owed their employment to our export trade. And although perhaps the proportion has been reduced slightly, to about one-third, nevertheless the subject is one of paramount importance for every Canadian. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I think that the house should welcome this opportunity of spending a little time considering trade, and in particular these agreements which have been announced by the government as having been concluded at Torquay.
The hon. member for Vancouver South (Mr. Laing), who has just spoken in fulsome terms of the way in which the agreements have been received in his province, has used quite strong expressions. He has pictured the people of his province as overjoyed. Now, Mr. Speaker, to the extent to which there are benefits in these agreements for the people of Canada I am sure all hon. members will be glad to commend them. At the same time the house will not fail, I am sure, in the discharge of its duty to examine the price that is being paid for the benefits that have been gained, and also to measure what has been gained against the hopes that we were led to form in anticipation of this conference, and also to compare these benefits with the picture that has been given to the house by the government concerning the effects of these agreements.
Those who sat in the house when we were called to meet at the beginning of December, 1947, and recall the way in which the government at that time introduced the Geneva trade agreements, and saw later the way in which some of the colour came
out of the picture on closer examination, will, I think, perhaps approach the government's rather grandiose description of the benefits of these agreements with at least a measure of reservation.
One recalls so well that broadcast to the nation on the evening of November 17, 1947, when the then prime minister went on the air and announced that as a result of the trade agreements which had been negotiated by the Canadian representatives at Geneva the new heaven and the new earth had come. And then, as soon as the prime minister had finished, the Minister of Finance came on the air to announce to the Canadian people that the advent of the new heaven and the new earth was postponed because it was felt necessary by the government to apply what were then absolutely illegal and unconstitutional taxes and restrictions upon imports into this country, measures applied by orders in council, which eventually found their way into the Emergency Exchange Conservation Act.
And so the new heaven and the new earth announced by the prime minister on that occasion were at least postponed. And by and by we found we were going to obtain only part of the new heaven and the new earth, at best, because only part of the Geneva agreement has ever come into effect. If I remember correctly the statement made a few days ago by the Minister of Finance, if not one made in an earlier session, the Geneva agreements have come into effect with respect to about half of the items to which they purported to apply. And even on that limited basis the effect of the Emergency Exchange Conservation Act over a period of three years was to reduce still further the area within which the agreements were permitted to operate.
Some of us in approaching the present agreements, however hopeful we may be, cannot dismiss from our minds the recollection that every time the government has come out from a conference it has announced at that time whatever it had to offer in the way of an agreement as though that were the advent of the new heaven and the new earth. This necessarily leaves those who have grown accustomed to these tactics with the feeling that we must approach the government's statements with at least a generous measure of reservation.
I am sure that on the part of every member in the house there will be a desire to commend the able representatives of this country at Torquay. They included some of the ablest of men in our civil service, men of whom the country is justly proud. I am quite
sure that through them Canada was able to discharge her part in those negotiations with credit, in the manner in which the negotiations were carried out.
I have a feeling, sir, that if the government would really break down and forget, for once, trying to sugar everything that it brings before the house, or paint everything it has done in glowing colours-it is my view that if the government would really break down and be candid with the house it would tell us that it has been disappointed with the results at Torquay.
What was accomplished at Torquay? Well, we will welcome the extension of the Geneva agreements for a further period of three years, to January 1, 1954. Then, as to the other fact that has been put before us as an accomplishment, namely the negotiation of sixteen new agreements, I suppose we are glad to see agreements in a world in which it is necessary more and more for the free nations to show the nations behind the iron curtain that the free nations are prepared to work together. Trade is one way in which we believe we can work together.
Having said that, I think we must admit- and I believe if the government were frank it would also admit-that the sixteen agreements are rather narrow in scope. And, even apart from those two factors, the rest of the negotiations at Geneva has been written into a record of failure and disappointment. I do not say, and I wish this to be clear, that the failure is attributable to Canada or to the Canadian representatives. Unquestionably the position taken by some of the nations represented at Geneva made it exceedingly difficult for Canada, and other countries that would have liked to enter into agreements with them, to do so.
Nevertheless we must, in reviewing these agreements, try to see them in their true light and, so far as we can, in their precise proportions. And whatever may be said on their behalf, the fact of the matter is that their benefits are very narrow in scope; and, on the whole, the Torquay agreements in years to come will be remembered largely, I suggest, because of the disappointments that were encountered there.
Torquay is not the only milestone in the post-war record of disappointments in the field of trade negotiations. How hopeful we were in 1945 and 1946! We looked at the draft charter of the international trade organization and we saw a new spirit in Washington, a new attitude toward freeing the channels of trade in the world. We saw throughout the free nations of the world what on all sides appeared to be a desire to further and to extend world trade on a multilateral basis.
We were all filled with hope. That, of course, was in the days before Russia had shown to us that she was determined to sabotage every effort of the rest of the world to advance toward either prosperity or peace. And it was also before some of the harder facts of the trading position of many nations were fully appreciated.
We did not appreciate in those days the difficulties Great Britain was shortly to face with respect to her trade and her currency. We underestimated, I think, the material exhaustion of the nations of western Europe; and we certainly underestimated the complexities involved in multilateral trade negotiations.
Subtopic: TORQUAY NEGOTIATIONS