February 19, 1957 (22nd Parliament, 5th Session)


James Garfield Gardiner (Minister of Agriculture)


Mr. Gardiner:

We were discussing the question of the levy. Some questions were asked in the house, and it was intimated that that was something which indicated that there was an element of insurance in it. I simply go on to answer that question by using the same terms that were used by the individual who was making the criticism. But I do not think it is necessary, either in the house or outside of it, for me to try to prove that I have never at any time maintained that this is crop insurance. I certainly have not. I have always maintained that we did not have authority to bring in crop insurance, and we have never attempted to introduce it.
I quite agree with some hon. members that it would be a good thing for Canada if we had crop insurance, but I do not agree with those who say that we can lead in bringing in crop insurance. Every authority I have ever consulted in connection with the matter says we cannot do that. But I do not know that there is anything in the constitution or anywhere else that prevents us assisting some province that does want to bring in insurance. We may be able to consider giving some assistance in connection with it; but to say that under our constitution we can lead in bringing in insurance is contrary to all the advice I have ever had in connection with it.
I think if we want to discuss that question at some other time it is quite proper to do so, but it is not part of this measure. We are not attempting to bring in crop insurance, and we are not attempting to argue against those who think crop insurance would be a good thing. The only question I would raise in connection with what has been said tonight with regard to it has to do with the United States system. There is no one who has ever argued that the United States system would do for our farmers what prairie

farm assistance does. The farmers of the United States do not argue that. As a matter of fact, when they discuss prairie farm assistance and compare it with their own system they indicate they have nothing to compare with our system to take care of farmers who may be suffering from drought conditions or some other condition.
In the United States they simply set up a fund of $100 million which the farmers are supposed to pay back some day. Then a system is set up under which they think the farmers will be able to pay it back. In order to set up that system they do exactly what has been said here tonight by a number of members, they zone the country and say you can have insurance in this area but you cannot have it in that area. They say that very definitely. In other words they take a section of the country in which the farmers can afford to pay for insurance and say all right, you can have it. You only get it if you write it up. You do not get it automatically, as you get the benefits from this measure. An agent comes out and tries to write up the insurance, just the same as they do in this country for hail insurance, fire insurance, life insurance or any other kind of insurance. It is only the farmers who think they can afford to pay the premium who have the insurance.
As I recall the figures in the Saskatchewan report, they indicate that some 26 per cent of the eligible producers in the United States participated. There is a considerable percentage of them not affected by that legislation at all. Most of those just across the line from North Dakota in Saskatchewan would be the people who benefit from the Prairie Farm Assistance Act. Some of them may be on land that is not quite as good as other land; some of them may have suffered from serious drought conditions; some of them may have suffered from rust, grasshoppers or any of these afflictions that cause loss to farmers. Under this legislation they draw on the fund automatically. It is not a question of having looked into the future and written up an insurance policy, and therefore drawing money. The money is paid to them automatically.
The hon. member for Kindersley was very eloquent in connection with the matter of paying store bills and so on. I would remind him of the fact that the very area from which he comes draws as heavily from this fund as any section in western Canada. The people are in that position because they have been farming land that is comparatively dry. I have been out in that district. I was out there in 1910 when they were homesteading and when you could see the gophers sitting up in the oat crop. Their heads were 82715-93
Prairie Farm Assistance Act higher than the oat crop when it was headed out. It was certainly dry enough that the people wanted to be helped.
Then I was back there later, in 1915, when I saw 130,000 bushels of wheat piled in one heap waiting for an elevator to be built so it could be put in cars and shipped out. I was back again later when the people were back in debt as deeply as they had been when they completed settling on their farms, and they were asking for help in order to get through that difficult period. I was back again last year and saw the wheat piled in the same areas and on the same farms as I saw it piled away back in 1915. This is an area in which they have their ups and downs. They have a drought in one period and good crops in another period, and they try to average it out over the years. This legislation helps them stay there and do that; it helps people of that kind who are spread over a very considerable section of the prairie country to remain and produce.
This is all the legislation is intended to do. It is not intended that it should be crop insurance or settle all the difficulties of the prairie farmers or the farmers in all parts of Canada. We have other methods whereby we do settle a lot of their difficulties. I only want to say that up to now we have spent 10 times more looking after the farmers of Canada than any other government we have had, Liberal or Tory. This is not a bad record for a government that is not supposed to have an agricultural policy at all. We have a pretty fair agricultural policy. The fact is there is not anyone over the last 21 years who has been able to produce a policy that would persuade the people of Canada that they ought to change from this policy. Our policy is fairly good, and it stands up alongside the policies of others.
The hon. member from New Brunswick was talking about conditions in the United States. The price of butter is higher in this country; the price of eggs is higher in this country, and the price of nearly everything is higher in this country. The one thing that is not higher in this country than it is in the United States is wheat, but our wheat sells for a higher price on the market in Liverpool than United States wheat. The same is true of any of the other markets where wheat is sold. We are not so badly off when compared to other people as my friends would have us believe. I do not mean to intimate that the farmers are as well off as they ought to be. However, this act does not make them any worse off, and I urge that the resolution be passed so we can get the legislation introduced.

Prairie Farm Assistance Act

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