November 11, 1957 (23rd Parliament, 1st Session)


Alexander Barrett Macdonald

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. A. B. Macdonald (Vancouver-Kings-way):

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure, on behalf of the people of Vancouver-Kingsway, to take part in this debate. Vancouver-Kingsway is an area in southeast Vancouver, an urban area. The people come from many diverse national origins and cultures. They are thrifty and industrious, and I venture to say there is a higher percentage of home owners in

Vancouver-Kingsway than in any other part of Canada. Vancouver, itself, is probably the most rapidly growing city in Canada. It might almost be called the Shangri-la of Canada, attracting people from all the other provinces to its climate, scenery and sunshine although I must admit that at this time of the year the liquid sunshine is more usual than the ordinary kind.
Vancouver may be said to be right at the centre of the crossroads of the world. Hon. members should not smile at that suggestion. It is half way between London and the orient; half way between Moscow and Latin America; half way between Ketchikan, Alaska and Tia Juana, Mexico; in fact, Vancouver is so central many important people say that they simply cannot afford to live anywhere else.
In taking part in a broad debate such as this, Mr. Speaker, in which so much can be said, I feel a little bit like the mosquito in a nudist camp; I don't know where to begin. However, begin I must, and I am speaking in support of the amendment moved by the hon. member for Rosetown-Biggar (Mr. Coldwell). What does that amendment do? The amendment welcomes the promises in the speech from the throne of increases in social security measures, as well as the promised tax relief. Certainly, we in this corner of the house are not going to be guilty of any obstruction. We want to see these measures on the statute books as quickly as possible. We are glad that the breakdown of parties in this house means that the long-forgotten people of Canada have to be given some consideration in so far as social security measures are concerned. We are pleased that neither of the old parties can, in this parliament at any rate, hide behind a large majority and disregard the needs of the people.
We do regret, however, that the increases proposed for old age pensioners, the blind, the disabled and the veterans, have not gone far enough to protect these people who are caught in the spiral of rising living costs. The other day the hon. member for Spadina (Mr. Rea), speaking on behalf of the Conservative party, charged the Liberals with bribing the electorate in the last election by promises of pension increases that amounted to no more than the cost of two cups of coffee per day. After all that campaign oratory and all those promises the Conservative mountain has now laboured and brought forth an increase equal only to the cost of three cups of coffee per day. Yet we have to be grateful for small mercies.
We cannot forget the glaring oversights in the speech from the throne. Surely, this new government cannot continue to turn a blind eye on the twin problems of inflation

and unemployment. How can anyone say that in this year of grace 1957 Canada can afford the human wastage involved in rapidly increasing unemployment.
When speaking last Friday night the Prime Minister (Mr. Diefenbaker) said unemployment was, to use his words, "not generally serious" in Canada. I can say, Mr. Speaker, that it is very serious in British Columbia. The latest official figures we have show that in September of this year unemployment in British Columbia, the Pacific area, stood at 29,800. The previous year the figure for unemployment was about half of that amount. In other words, it is twice as bad this year. Unemployment, even on that scale, is a social crime. Indeed, as Talleyrand, the famous French diplomat said, it is worse than a crime, it is a blunder. Today we are locked in a struggle with the totalitarian regime of the soviets for the hearts and minds of the uncommitted millions of Africa and Asia; a struggle for moral as well as material ascendancy. Unemployment has become something the western world simply cannot afford.
Neither can we afford inflation. In the last two years rising prices, like a thief in the night, have stolen from the pay envelope, from the shopping budget, from the bank account, as much as $5.50 of every $100. Even the vaunted pension increase which government members are heralding so much of $15, that is the Liberal and Conservative increase combined, when judged even in the light of prices as recent as 1949 is not an increase of $15 at all but only $4.70. In other words, in terms of the purchasing power of a dollar a short eight years ago the federal pension we are offered today is only $44.70; that is certainly not a large increase. This process of inflation, therefore, is not comparable to any petty theft at all, it is grand larceny. While prices continue to rise, to date the government has blandly ignored the whole problem, as though hoping it will go away if only no one notices it.
I think it is worse than that, Mr. Speaker. I think the government are relying on the classic solution for inflation of the orthodox economists, the solution of the big business and financial interests of Bay street, Toronto, and the other centres. What is their solution for inflation? Their solution is that to cure inflation you must have a little unemployment. They feel that if only there is not too much money jingling in the pockets of ordinary Canadians, then prices will level off. I believe that cure, of course, is worse than the disease. It reminds me of the doctors of olden times whose cure for any human ailment was to apply a leech and draw off a pint or two of blood from the body of the unfortunate
The Address-Mr. A. B. Macdonald patient. But who can say, in the kind of world in which we live today, that we can afford the national hemorrhage involved in thousands of unemployed, numbering among them our most skilled and productive workers.
Finally, the amendment moved by the hon. member for Rosetown-Biggar (Mr. Coldwell) calls attention to the need for social and economic planning. I do not think the government should any longer be afraid of those two little words "social planning". Surely the cure for inflation is not to have a little bit of unemployment but to plan investment capital both to protect consumer prices on the one hand and to maintain employment on the other. If the big interests which for the last 10 years have made of Canada a profiteer's paradise are not prepared to co-ordinate production and distribution in accordance with the abilities and needs of the Canadian people, then it is high time that this parliament with a united voice reminded them of their duties as well as their privileges.
In listening to the debate on cash advances to prairie farmers I could not help but connect that matter with the need for social planning. It is not that I hold myself out as an expert on farm questions. I think the hon. member for Rosetown-Biggar still gets a laugh when he recalls how 12 years ago when I saw a pile of straw on the prairies, I asked him why the farmers grew that. I think he told me that they grew it to hold up the heads of wheat. But while I am not a farm expert-in fact, far from it-I cannot help observing the folly of unplanned scarcity, free enterprise economics. Here is Canada with our granaries bulging with good foodstuffs and our people in need of many of the necessities for making a good life and there, for instance, is Japan hungry and anxious to exchange with us many of the goods which she can produce very well. Why can such an exchange not take place? Would not both countries be the richer for it? Of course they would. But how can that take place when here in Canada we are hard put to it to keep our own people at work, let alone receive goods from other countries.
The real issue surely must remain an issue between unplanned scarcity and planned abundance. I would therefore ask the government not to be afraid of those two little words in the amendment namely, "social planning". We wish them well in carrying out their responsibility to transact public business at this time. But they should be reminded that that is not only their right but their constitutional duty. There has been too much bantering talk from the government benches
The Address-Mr. A. B. Macdonald in this parliament about a snap election. Even the Prime Minister, when he gets into some small corner or other, likes to threaten the house darkly with the possibilities of an election, while his excited but uninformed supporters pound their desks behind him. The Solicitor General (Mr. Balcer), speaking in Toronto not long ago, said that the Conservative party was already engaged in a federal election campaign.
However, Mr. Speaker, the people of Canada expect this government, like any other one, to carry out their constitutional duty, to forget electioneering politics and to attend to the transaction of that public business which they were elected to transact. Their constitutional responsibilities in this situation have been well defined by many authorities. Perhaps the foremost one is Canada's own Dr. Eugene Forsey who wrote a book entitled "The Royal Power of Dissolution". The opinion of the experts boils down to this.
Under the usages and conventions of our constitution, it is incumbent upon a government, including a minority government, to carry on with the transaction of public business unless they are defeated in the house or unless they meet obstruction in the house. This government, from what has been said, is not in sight of defeat in this house; and it could hardly be said that there has been any obstruction in the house. Indeed, all parties in the house have helped to see that their legislation has been quickly passed.
I therefore think it is well to remember that there is, in circumstances such as these, a constitutional duty to put the transaction of public business before the political expediency of the government party, even if it thinks it might gain political advantage from an early election. Not that we in this corner of the house-I think perhaps the hon. member opposite was going to say this -are concerned about an early appeal to the people. We are not boys to be frightened by gibes from the government benches. But nevertheless, loose talk about an election, and the kind of loose talk we have heard, seems to me to indicate that those who engage in it forget that this government, like any other one, was elected to transact public business and that as long as it can do so in this parliament, its duty is to carry on while this condition prevails.

Topic:   II. 1957
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