Mr. Peter Stefura (Vegreville):
Mr. Speaker, first of all I should like to extend to you my congratulations on being chosen as the first commoner. I would like to congratulate the mover (Mr. Smith, Calgary South) of the address in reply to the speech from the throne who used words to the effect that the terror one has in making his maiden speech reduces itself to a straight fear when one rises to speak. I sympathize with him. I can assure him today that he has a lot of company in this house.
I also wish to congratulate the seconder, the hon. member for Bonaventure (Mr. Arsenault). I shall also take the opportunity at this time to thank the people of the Vegreville constituency for the privilege and the honour they have bestowed upon me for making it possible for me to rise in this house to present their problems and perhaps offer possible solutions.
I am told the tradition has been that a new member usually goes to considerable length in his first speech to describe his constituency. I will try to do this to a lesser degree. The problems that the people are faced with are of prime importance and should be brought to the attention of this house for immediate remedial action. At this time I shall only bring in enough history and statistics so that one may understand more
The Address-Mr. Stefura clearly the problems of my constituents and their possible solution and also so that he may be able to see more clearly the errors, the lack of appreciation on the part of our former government and the injustices that some of those people have received.
The Vegreville constituency is an agricultural area. Its history is new. In the same way that Canada is a young nation among nations the history of the Vegreville constituency is young as compared with that of other parts of Canada. Before 1890 very few white people knew its terrain or very much about it. There was the odd cattle ranch in the area that grew grass but, however, the biggest portion was very heavily wooded with timber and bush and was of no commercial value. To this wilderness came the first settler. In many instances it was necessary to cut some of the bush to make room for a little eight by ten shack because the only clearing was a slough or a bog. There were no roads or bridges nor any of the modern tools or equipment that one would consider an absolute necessity before going into a wilderness today.
The first settlers were of Anglo-Saxon origin, the English, the Scots, the Irish; the hardy people first settled in the Beaver lake area and as more of them came in, they settled in the Vegreville, Lamont, Manville, Andrew, Mindburn areas. The odd one, of course, took scattered holdings throughout. We then had a few French and German settlers arrive in the territory. They took up holdings not too far away from those who were already settled.
When the immigration policies of this country were changed to encourage more settlement and development in the new territories there was an influx of immigrants mostly from the central European countries which began about 1897. The Ukrainian people came in, the Polish people and, of course, more German people. Practically every European country was represented. The first Ukrainian settler who came to this country, Mr. Wasyl Elenik, who lived practically all his life since coming to this country in the Vegreville constituency is today buried in a small village that I call my home town of Chipman.
Today about 80 per cent of the people are of Ukrainian origin, of which I am also a descendant. We have never had any integration problems. There appears to be an unwritten law that is followed by practically all the people, a law that says more or less: I am proud of my nationality, I am proud of my church but I honour and highly respect the other man's nationality and the other man's church.
The Address-Mr. Stefura
Perhaps with the conditions under which they first began they could not afford otherwise. Today they are all proud to be Canadians, proud of the fact that they can enjoy the freedom and the privileges of this country, proud also of the fact that they went into a wilderness not too long ago and within their own lifetime have developed that wilderness into an area that is as fine an agricultural area as we have in this country.
It was not an easy task. They had no capital and in many cases they had little more than a strong back and a couple of strong arms. The process was slow and tedious. Their health today is perhaps not what it would have been had they chosen an easier life, but then again this country might not have been as prosperous as it is today had they decided to do so. This does not apply only to the pioneers and senior citizens of Vegreville constituency but also applies to a greater or lesser degree to all our senior citizens. If it were not for their hard work, their courage, their clear thinking we might be doing business today in the terms in which this country was doing business at the turn of the century instead of having a gross national product of over $30 billion.
It is, therefore, only fitting and proper that our government should give our senior citizens the consideration they are entitled to. When the government brings before the house its proposed legislation on old age pensions we trust that the amount will be at least $60 per month per person and that where there is need there should be an additional $20 if it is matched by the provinces.
In 1949 when old age pensions were raised to $40 a month our gross national product was approximately $16J billion. Today it is over $30 billion. It would be no more difficult for the government to pay $60 today than it was to pay $40 per month in 1949. Our senior citizens should not live in want or anxiety.
The Vegreville constituency is an agricultural area. In it I believe we have as fine and as productive land as there is in the country, bar none. With the exception of the brown soils found in the southern part of the province, we have every other type of soil found in the province, all of different productive capacities. This, coupled with the fact that most of the holdings are small, makes it urgent that government policies be more flexible to meet and face conditions as they actually are, rather than to formulate policies that they believe or think should exist under these conditions.
We do not have the really large farms that we find in the southern part of the province or in Saskatchewan, but what we call the larger farmers in my constituency, are faced with problems very similar to those faced by
the large farmers of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. Therefore I repeat, that the urgency is there.
I do not want to bore you with too many statistics at this time, but I should like to mention briefly what has happened to the agricultural industry. From 1951 to 1954 net farm income was cut almost in half, about 45 per cent. The situation since then has improved only slightly. In a lot of cases some of the farm people have been forced to live off depreciation. I would ask you, sir, what would the situation be in this country if other industries were forced to take a similar cut? What would be the situation if labour had been asked to take a 45 per cent cut in salary?
I would ask the ministers and the other members of the house to place themselves in a similar position and in similar circumstances where the prospects of improvement were not too bright and definitely very slow in coming. If there were a power above, that through its bungling and its policies or lack of policies, forced the ministers to take a 45 per cent cut in their salaries, if such a power were to force the members of the house who say the farmers want to be coddled or want hand-outs to take a cut in their salaries in similar proportions, I am sure that the heated accusations I heard thrown across the floor of the house by former ministers and some of the present ministers would seem like a Sunday school picnic. I am also certain that they would do enough hollering and raise enough of a ruckus to be heard in the high heavens. Yet a lot of people expect the farmers to accept such a condition and say nothing about it.
I am happy to see in the speech from the throne that the government has suggested it will introduce remedial legislation this session. To these measures we will be giving our support but we reserve the right to criticize constructively and, yes, to criticize severely if the legislation is too slow in bringing about action or is insufficient to assure the maximum stability of income to Canadian farmers and to re-establish their rightful place in our economy.
In the Vegreville constituency roughly 90 per cent of the people are dependent either directly or indirectly on the agricultural industry. When that industry was set back, through no fault of its own it affected every other business there. It affected the merchants, the fuel dealers, the implement dealers and so on right down the line. Some of these businessmen have told me that their sales have been reduced by about 20 per cent and in some instances by almost 30 per cent. They have extended credit to the limit and can go no further. In turn, they are being pressed by their creditors. It is not a healthy
situation, nor is it one that should exist when the rest of our economy is enjoying a much higher level of prosperity.
The tendency has been to lay the blame on the farmer. This is something I most heartily disagree with, and I again ask the house, Mr. Speaker, is it the fault of the farmer who has produced the food that the people of the world require or is it the fault of statesmen who have failed to keep pace with the scientific and technical knowledge of our age? Science has given the farmers knowledge, has given them more modern tools and equipment in order that they may be able to produce more efficiently, whereas our government's policies are still in the horse and buggy days.
The farm people have been told by the Food and Agricultural Organization founded at Hot Springs, in which Canada has representatives, that farmers must grow more food if the people of the world are to be fed. They must grow almost two blades of grass where one grew before. They must increase the production of cereals such as wheat, rice and the like by at least 50 per cent. They are also told that the world wheat supply on hand is only enough to last about three months if the people who so desperately need it were able to get it. Two out of three people go to bed hungry every day.
Our governments in the past have talked of surpluses. It has been said that the reason prices have dropped and the farmer finds himself in economic straits at this time is that he has overproduced. When the question was raised at the Food and Agricultural Organization, can modern agriculture supply the real need of human beings for food, the answer given them was yes, if the hobbles are taken off agriculture. What of the surpluses, it was asked. There are none, said the delegates. What had been called surpluses were surpluses only in relation to purchasing power and not in relation to the need of human beings.
Full production must be the goal so long as there are people anywhere in the world who are in need of food.
This idea did not have the support of the former government, as was made quite clear by the former prime minister in a speech at Regina some months ago. His message was quite clear. Wheat should not be produced, he said in effect, in excess of what could be sold in the ordinary course of business. If more were produced, then the farmer himself would be the chief offender. I have noted that according to the press there may be a slight inclination on the part of the present government to follow the same policy. The Minister of Trade and Commerce (Mr. Churchill) stated a short time ago that farmers should produce less wheat or perhaps
The Address-Mr. Stefura convert it into livestock. This, in effect, would simply mean that the farmer would be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.
The farmers and businessmen are not the only ones who are adversely affected by a depressed agricultural industry. Farm people, and others as well, find it difficult to meet their everyday obligations. They find it difficult to meet their hospital bills and doctor bills, and the hospitals are also running into difficulties that should not exist. Some of these problems may mean the difference between life and death to some of our people, but I hope such a situation will never arise. Perhaps I should mention at this time that the first hospital was built in the Vegreville constituency through the kindness and generosity of the United Church and some of the local settlers shortly after the first settlers arrived. Today there are two hospitals, one of which has grown to be quite an institution. I am speaking, of course, of the Archer Memorial Hospital at Lamont. It is an institution of which the local people, as well as many outside the constituency, are very proud. I might mention that again, within the space of not too many years, the doctors of this country have seen fit to choose a fine man from this hospital, Dr. M. A. R. Young, as the president of the Canadian Medical Association.
We have some other fine hospitals that are being operated by the Catholic churches and nursing orders. Some are municipal hospitals, but all of them are doing a wonderful job. Practically all of them are running into financial difficulties because of the inflationary trend in our economy and the depressed position of our agricultural industry.
I regret very much that there was no mention in the speech from the throne of a health program. The highly flaunted national health scheme, proposed by the previous administration, apparently has been sidetracked by the present administration. Does this mean that the Canadian people must wait for several years before they have a workable health program?
There is mention in the speech from the throne of certain changes in some of the taxation statutes, and of a federal-provincial conference to discuss fiscal relations as well as to seek a better understanding or arrangement of many aspects of public finance. As a former reeve of a rural municipality and a councillor today, I can well appreciate the many problems that face the junior levels of government across Canada. Changes will indeed be welcome. When we find that people are taxed in some cases beyond their ability to pay their municipal taxes; when we find
The Address-Mr. Stefura the people paying six times the amount of their municipal taxes to the federal government through direct and hidden taxes, certain changes are long overdue. When we find that almost 25 cents out of every dollar the people earn must go to taxes, we begin to wonder how much farther we can go. The exorbitant amounts that the people of Canada pay to the federal treasury through hidden taxes is one of the major causes of the inflationary trend in our economy. I trust that the present administration will propose legislation at this session to rectify this unfair situation.
It was with a great deal of interest that I read the interprovincial farm union's brief of August 15, as presented to the Prime Minister (Mr. Diefenbaker) and members of the cabinet, and found that Canada had lost approximately 48,000 farm units. It was with a great deal of interest also that I listened to the questions on the orders of the day and to the debate in committee of supply last week concerning the seriousness of our unemployment situation. It was most interesting because I found that Vegreville constituency, according to the 1956 census, had lost approximately 4,600 people as compared with the 1951 census figures. Last fall we lost a few more. This year a large portion of the Vegreville riding has had poor crops, and the result will be a loss of many more people. These figures do not include the many people who put in their crops and then were forced to supplement their farm income by seeking employment in other industries in Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan or in the oil fields. Should the present condition of agriculture continue then the trend towards unemployment will become worse.
This brings to my mind the unfairness of the Prairie Farm Assistance Act. In areas where there has been a crop failure-and as I said we will have a fair-sized area in this situation in my riding this year
and it becomes necessary for the farmer to seek other temporary employment to keep his family, we find he does not qualify for prairie farm assistance. Even though these conditions exist, nevertheless he must make his contributions under the act from every bushel of grain he sells. The inconsistency in the act is most unfair. There are other stipulations also which make the unfairness particularly noticeable where the farm units are small.
The interprovincial farm union council has brought out quite well the factors that have contributed to the present emergency. I trust that I may have the privilege of speaking on the subjects of cash advances, the two-price system for wheat and others as they are
brought before this house. I would ask that the government bring these forward at the first opportunity.
I have before me a clipping from the Toronto Globe and Mail. The headline reads, "P.C.'s Action to Match Party's Vote Pledges Says Confident Prime Minister". In one part of the article it is stated that he again made it abundantly clear he expected the cooperation of opposition parties during the session to carry out his government's legislative program for the benefit of all Canada. I have here as well a folder entitled "Progressive Conservative Agricultural Policy", with its thirteen points. On it there appears to be a reproduction of the Prime Minister's signature. I can say to the Prime Minister that I will be giving not only my fullest cooperation, but should the government forget these promises to the Canadian farmers to re-establish them to their rightful position in our economy I may remind him from time to time of those promises. Perhaps on some other day, Mr. Speaker, I shall be able to speak again.
Subtopic: CONTINUATION OF DEBATE ON ADDRESS IN REPLY