July 25, 1969 (28th Parliament, 1st Session)


Thomas Speakman Barnett

New Democratic Party

Mr. Barnett:

Mr. Chairman, it had occurred to me that members of the house at this hour on Friday afternoon, rather than listen to me talk, might prefer to observe a period of 20 minutes' silence to reflect upon the body blow that was delivered in this house to the freedom and rights of members of this parliament. But, on reflection I was afraid the Chair might say such a silence would not be relevant to the subject matter of the bill which is now before us. I did think of another alternative. I thought that perhaps the 20 minutes' silence might be used to observe the symbolic death of what I understand was once a genuine Canadian company and which, according to the sponsor of the bill, enjoyed the respect and confidence of the community in which it originated. I am not sure whether the hon. member sponsoring the bill would be prepared to agree that that is the kind of observance he would want, inasmuch as he is prepared to sponsor a bill of this nature in this house.
This is the first time I have spoken on the subject matter of Bill C-101. When I read through its provisions, it seemed to me I was meeting once again an old friend or old enemy whichever way one might prefer to describe it, because there was a similarity to certain other bills which were before us in previous parliaments. The explanatory note is very similar. It states that the sole purpose of the bill is to change the name of the company to Avco Insurance Company from London and Midland General Insurance Company. This may seem to be a very simple and

July 25. 1969
Private Bills
innocuous proposal to which there should be little dissent. However, I believe it is necessary that we give some detailed attention to what is being asked by the bill. The hon. member for Skeena (Mr. Howard) gave us some of the details in respect of the proposed new Avco Insurance Company. Under its present name this company is involved in what is known as the Avco group.
When this matter was before the Standing Committee on Finance, Trade and Economic Affairs, the hon. member for Calgary North (Mr. Woolliams) asked the obvious question. He asked what does Avco stand for. The witness before the committee replied that it is an abbreviation of the names of aviation companies, and through the years has dwindled down to Avco. I suggest that while the name may have dwindled down, the activities of the corporation have not dwindled down. Indeed, the company would appear to have enlarged to the proportion of a giant octopus. The president of the London and Midland General Insurance Company said that the parent company in New York has become something along the lines of what might be called a conglomerate, involved in such things as aeroplane parts and extensive research and development, including the mechanical heart.
One can see, Mr. Chairman, that what is now the London and Midland General Insurance Company is something which is quite large indeed, and that the funds gathered through the corporate side may be directed into a great many different fields including indeed, if I may say so, what is sometimes referred to as the military industrial complex in the United States of America. I suppose one might develop a line of reasoning which would indicate that through this kind of mechanism the people who buy insurance through this company are directly or indirectly assisting in the financing of the United States war effort in Viet Nam. So, Mr. Chairman, it is not very difficult to indicate to the house that when the explanatory note says the sole purpose of this bill is to change the name, it is not as simple as that.
It may be true that the passage of this particular bill will not greatly affect the corporate structure of the company, but I submit that members of the house must give consideration to the fact that if they lend their assent to this proposal they are in effect putting their stamp of approval on something which I suppose, for practical purposes, has already taken place, namely the drawing into the United States conglomerate of some of the financial institutions of Canada.
This bill was under consideration by the committee of the whole on March 13 last. Not having participated in the debate on that occasion, I have looked at some of the remarks which were made during that particular part of the consideration of the bill. I notice that the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra (Mr. Deachman) saw fit to intervene in the debate. I shall read, in part at least, the remarks he made. On examination of those remarks, I have concluded that the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra is almost as adept at turning the truth upside down as the Prime Minister, who demonstrated his capabilities during the discussions that have taken place in this house in the last couple of days.
[DOT] (4:30 p.m.)
I thought I might make one or two comments about the arguments presented on that occasion by that hon. member. He said:
No one can argue this case better than do the hon. members who, throughout their history in the House of Commons, have been confined to the far left hand corner of the house-
I should like to correct the hon. member's statement. There was an occasion when we sat in the far right hand corner of the house and he and his colleagues were sitting on this side of the chamber. I realize that may not be significant or relevant to the argument the hon. member has advanced, but I am sure he would not want that inaccuracy to remain unnoted.
The hon. member for Vancouver Quadra was talking about Canadian companies. In reference to our theories about the desirability of having foreign ownership and investment in Canada, he said, as reported at page 6589 of Hansard for March 13:
-hon. gentlemen opposite, who have held up these bills, have constantly argued that foreign capital militates against the progress of the Canadian economy and Industry. We do not believe that on this side of the house.
The hon. member for Timiskaming (Mr. Peters) is recorded as having said at that point:
That is not true.
The manner in which the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra was presenting the argument indicates that the hon. member for Timiskaming was quite correct on that occasion. The argument presented by the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra obviously had nothing to do with the subject matter of this
[Mr. Bamett.1
July 25, 1969

bill, because the nature of his remarks indicate that he was talking about the kind of company which puts investment into natural resources in Canada and brings about industrial development.
This is a subject matter on which various people in Canada have differing views at this time. I agree that the hon. member was correct in that regard. This is an important question, but it is not the question which was being discussed in relation to this bill. It is quite apparent that this bill has to do with a financial institution, the function of which is to gather the funds of the Canadian people into a pool. Our submission is that this is an area of debate very different from that being pursued by the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra. The argument which applied in one connection did not necessarily apply to the other.
I am one who believes we have been very foolish in the manner in which we have allowed industrial development and exploitation of natural resources to take place in this country. We have allowed foreign companies to gain control through the investment of a very small amount of equity capital and, in many cases, allowed that control when the actual capital investment has been raised from Canadian sources in non-equity form. This process should be reversed. As I have sometimes said, if we had taken a leaf from the book of the United States in the way it has drawn foreign capital, we would be in a much more sound position than we are today. Unless I am very much misinformed, the United States drew in large blocs of investment capital from abroad-in a large part from the United Kingdom-and most of that capital inflow was in the form of borrowed funds which the United States paid back with interest.
What we have in this bill is something completely different. In fact, what we are acquiescing to is the idea of a United States company being able to gain control of a Canadian financial institution and, through that mechanism, invest Canadian funds wherever it sees fit. I submit this makes the argument advanced on March 13 by the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra completely irrelevant to the subject matter of the bill. I say that while emphasizing again that his remarks on that occasion were completely inaccurate in portraying the position he alleges we in this party have taken.
The whole question involved in some of the debates that have taken place during this particular procedure has a significance which is
Private Bills
much greater than the subject matter of the particular bill we are discussing today, or the subject matter of some of the similar bills we have had under discussion in this and preceding parliaments. I think it has been made clear time and time again by some of us who have spoken-some might say at length and some would say at great and undue length- that the bill represents an opportunity to attempt to draw the attention of the government to what we consider to be a very serious trend in our society. This trend is going to militate seriously against the future economic viability of the Canadian economy.
We have been adopting this course not because we have any particular vendetta against this particular company, or against its United States parent corporation, but rather because we feel we should draw the situation to the attention of that country. We feel that we should control our own economic and political destiny. It is for that reason I do not want to see this bill passed. I feel that somewhere along the line some Canadians ought to take a stand to reverse this trend which has been so apparent in recent years in Canada, and one which has been accelerating more and more. This trend is not new.
I believe I am right when I recall that the first essay I wrote as a first year university student was entitled "The Americanization of Canadian Life". I do not mind admitting to hon. members that I was a member of the arts class of 1931 at the University of British Columbia. As a young university student, I had some concern about what was happening in Canadian life and to the Canadian economy. That concern is something which has been with me through all the years since then, a concern about which I have become increasingly aware during the time I have been a member of the Canadian House of Commons.
I must say that most of the arguments which have been advanced by those of us who have spoken during these debates on this bill, and others like it, appear to have been falling on deaf ears in this house. There certainly does not appear to be recognition by the Canadian government of the fact that steps should be taken to prevent us from having to deal with situations such as the one alluded to in this particular bill.
[DOT] (4:40 p.m.)

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