Mr. Arnold Peters (Timiskaming):
Mr. Speaker, the hour is getting late. I do not represent a western Canadian farm riding but I have been very interested in this debate and I hope the government has learned something. I note that the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Olson) and other long standing members of the agriculture committee are standing outside the curtain. They must know that over the years agricultural problems have changed. These problems have been brought to the attention of the government since I have been here but the government has found no solution.
The new minister from Saskatchewan has suggested that somebody has pushed the panic button. This is a very interesting remark, particularly to the unemployed in this country. I suggest the minister is unemployed, but the farmer in this country is not interested in that fact. He has too much to think about because of his own problems.
January 22, 1969
These farm problems are always regional. When they occur the farmers get after their members of parliament to do something about them. Unfortunately, there is insufficient action on the part of the government. Some years ago we had an opportunity to consider the problems in respect of wheat production. The committee on agriculture at that time presented a report to this house, but obviously the minister has not read it. He is not aware of the recommendations that committee made. Had those recommendations been implemented many of the problems in respect of box cars would have been alleviated.
It is my opinion that the minister should not have control of the Canadian Wheat Board. This government agency has been transferred from one minister to another over the years. I have a great deal of respect for this minister who has inherited this responsibility. Since I have been a member of this house the responsibility for the wheat board has rested with the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Trade and Commerce and one or two others.
Perhaps the minister should consider putting the wheat board under the direction of one of the ministers without portfolio because this agency is responsible for many problems which affect the entire country. The production and sale of wheat is an important part of our economy. I do not know what ministers without portfolio do, but one of them should interest himself in this matter.
The minister responsible for this government agency is now handling an extremely important portfolio and the addition of this responsibility is ridiculous. To throw the Wheat Board, which is a major responsibility, on top of his other responsibilities is idiotic. The minister has great capacity but I am sure that even he cannot pay full attention to these four major responsibilities. I suggest that at least two of them, and probably all of them, are running into some difficulty because of his inability to cope with all these problems.
One had only to look at the minister's desk this evening to realize how much responsibility he has. He had on his desk a pile of correspondence that he had been answering for four or five hours. And this is on overtime; it is not done in normal hours.
The Wheat Board is an important agency, but let us face another problem. The chairman of the Wheat Board is a great propagandist. He has a personal machine that never allows him to come out at the worst end of
any question or mistake that may occur. The minister or somebody else may be blamed for a mistake, but in my experience Mr. McNamara will not be blamed-and my experience covers a long period of time. The chairman of the Wheat Board does a good job and looks after himself.
Many things could be done to solve this problem. There have been in the past a great many problems in this industry. The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Olson) thinks he has to defend himself against all these problems. He does not. I do not think all members of parliament would accuse him of having been responsible for the weather, the mistakes created because of the quota system or those of the industry. They may. However, I think they would be speaking figuratively and really would not hold the Minister of Agriculture directly responsible for all these problems. But they hold the government responsible in the sense that action could be taken to solve the problems but it has not been taken.
The government has not taken action to solve the problems faced by this industry. One or two solutions to the problems were contained in the report of the committee which studied the matter. First, we have a very lousy transportation system for moving grain. We obviously cannot continue to handle the quotas produced by the farmer. The committee said that if any emergency arose we would be in serious trouble. We had probably the best co-operation in respect of our transportation facilities, the country elevators and terminal elevators in the ports of Vancouver, Prince Rupert and at the head of the lakes for a period of two or three years when we handled much more than we should have been able to handle with the facilities at our disposal.
In respect of this industry we are operating out of a box car. We do not operate the potash industry or any other industry in this country to the best advantage. Modernization will have to take place in the grain elevators and other facets of the agricultural industry. It does not behoove us to continue the practice we have followed in the past. We must build new elevators. We should not use elevators which were designed 50 years ago simply because the people in the community have a vested interest in them.
We would be much better off if we built elevators which had drying facilities in them. Farmers should not have to have drying facilities on their farms. There may be a drought for three years, good crops for five
January 22, 1969
years, and two years of an excess of rain. For eight or ten years a farmer may have to use drying equipment on only one or two occasions. We cannot afford this situation in regard to our elevator arrangements.
When we went out to western Canada I am sure every member of the committee was shocked when he learned something that probably even the farmers do not know. When we walked into the Moose Jaw terminal we found it had in it less than 20 bushels of grain. This had been the situation for many months. They had 40 employees. If each of them had taken one bushel of grain home, that elevator would not have been needed at all. That terminal facility could be putting class II wheat into export shape for marketing in three or four days. All you would be doing at the elevators, either at the head of the lakes or in Vancouver, would be moving the grain into the ships that were tied up in that area. The necessity this year for drying grain as well as for putting it into export position has made things much more difficult. The situation could have been coped with much more easily in the terminal elevators than the elevators at the ports.
[DOT] (1:10 a.m.)
As everyone knows, there has been great reluctance to use the port at Churchill. The facilities at Churchill could have been used to a far greater degree for European export of wheat, probably three or four times as much. This recommendation has been made by all transportation people in the Churchill area. They have said that if grain were moved to the port at Churchill the cost would be less than in moving it to other ports. Yet this was not considered until an emergency arose.
I suggest to the Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce that he set up the commission which has been recommended. He has the choice of either setting up a commission to co-ordinate the transportation or one to handle the whole co-ordination of the grain movement. The grain commissioners have a responsibility in this field, as have the country elevators and the Wheat Board. It is difficult for each and every one of them to be in contact with each other. For instance, I am told tonight that there has been another bad train wreck in the Edmonton area. If this is so, these shipments could be rerouted by a transportation commissioner with teletype facilities in his office. He would know the movements of the C.N.R. and C.P.R. and could make appropriate arrangements.
If we do not have such a facility I suggest we will be in continual difficulty. The facilities we do have are archaic and we should seriously consider what to do about this problem on a long term basis. Everyone concerned with the industry and with agriculture has done a very good job in their own field to make possible the deliveries that we have made over the last four or five years. This is a unique year because of the drying problem. There is also a general problem in the field of agriculture which is developing very rapidly. I refer to the high interest rate on purchases which the farmers have to make. Obviously this has had some effect on the ability of country elevators to buy drying equipment. So there have been special problems this year.
If the minister considers himself big enough to sit on this whole problem he will find himself in exactly the same situation as the one which his great predecessor, C. D. Howe, had to face. He was not big enough and he had to obtain the help of other competent people. If the minister wishes to call these people executives and appoint them to his own staff in charge of specific aspects of this problem I would not be opposed to such a move because I believe it would get the job done. But if he waits until each of these boards reports to him and carries out the work of co-ordination on the basis of those reports he will find he is considerably out of touch.
This problem has been with us for a number of years and until Members of Parliament get up and make a noise nothing ever seems to be done. The present situation has developed to some degree during every one of the 12 years in which I have been here, and I think the Minister of Agriculture will bear this out. Nothing new has been said in this debate. There is no emergency with which we are unfamiliar. For God's sake let us sit down in the agricultural committee and settle some of these problems or at least those which are capable of solution.
I do not say these things in a partisan way. The object is to maintain as much of the export market as we can, and this involves not only supplying the desired grain in the proper condition but supplying it on time to fill the ships as they arrive. It means that grain should be moved uniformly so that all farmers have an appropriate quota and so that no dislocation arises in connection with our transportation or harbour facilities. The
January 22, 1969
movement of grain should be co-ordinated in such a way that the right grain reaches the right place at the right time. If this can be done Canada will have a future in the marketing of grain.
I have no personal or constituency interest in the grain industry but from the experience I have gained as a result of the opportunity of travelling across western Canada I am sure that unless some major changes take place, originated by the government, there will be a serious calamity affecting our ability to export at prices which will allow farmers a reasonable return while enabling us to meet the international price structure.