Mr. Walter Baker (Grenville-Carleton):
Mr. Speaker, as I rise to take part in this debate I wish to say that as a member of this House of Commons I am somewhat shocked by the blasphemies heaped upon the members of my party by my friends to the left, especially when we were so generous in permitting the hon. member a few moments of extra time.
Like everyone else who has preceded me in this debate, I am concerned about the price of food and how it keeps rising. I am concerned about the effect of these increases on pensioners and others on fixed incomes. Frankly, I do not understand how some people are able to raise a family of three or four children with all the necessities in respect of clothing, housing and so on, on the incomes they have. I am concerned about what is happening to these people in the communities. They are taxed at one end of the scale by the Department of National Revenue, by sales taxes, by municipal taxes, by education taxes, by the excise tax, and on the other end of the scale they are taxed by the fact that the value of the dollar they have dwindles and disappears. I agree with many hon. members who have spoken from both sides of this House that if this increase in food costs had in some way supported the farmers or producers of Canada in a realistic manner then maybe the public would not be so concerned. But that has not happened.
The hon. member for Crowfoot (Mr. Horner) spoke of the abandoned farms in the west. I want to tell you, Mr. Speaker, that we have them in eastern Ontario as well. The government has embarked on a marketing policy that is putting producers out of the market. As if that process needed any help, a capital gains tax has been placed on farmlands, even when they are passed within a family. The basic herd principle has been abandoned. All these factors not only drive producers off the land but ensure that very few new producers can come on the land to take their place. I remember this past spring and fall that the farmers of eastern Ontario, particularly in Dundas, Grenville and Carleton counties, were having difficulty in even getting onto the land to see whether they could harvest their stunted crops. When they could not get on the land to do that, when they needed cash to help them, when they needed a policy to help stabilize the price of feed, when they needed real help, this government came through with a pittance in comparison with the size of the problem. In fact, one farmer in my constituency said to me that what he got from the government in the form of aid in that
January 23, 1973
crisis would not pay the legal fees of a good lawyer in the foreclosure action that he faced.
The NDP, that party to the left, lash out at conglomerates, the big chains, the retailers, but they never mention the unions. They take us on a trip that starts at the corner store, continues to Loblaws and finally ends up in Sweden. We always seem to end up in Sweden.
What of this government? The minister says that the government is determined to contain inflation and to protect the dollar. I ask you: when did they develop this concern? I suggest that they started to develop it in the election of 1972. The problem has been with us for four years. They like to say that this is a lesson they learned from the election. I put it to you, Sir, that I would be forgiven if I called it a deathbed repentance. They called it a world-wide problem. They blame it on poor food crops. They compare Canada with countries with which there is no valid comparison and, when all else fails, they blame it on the weather. They never face up to the fact that they could have done something about it, but they did not even try. The best they have been able to do for a country that is waiting for answers has been to wring their hands and to form a committee.
I share the doubts of members of the House on both sides on the question of whether this committee will ever be effective. But as members of this House, we cannot throw up our hands in despair. Our duty is to make that committee work, if it will work, and to make that committee as effective as possible. That is why I supported the motion not to include the members of the other place, as well as the other motions. However, the House has voted on those motions.
There are some hon. members who have advocated the imposition of price and wage controls, and who have suggested that it be done immediately. I hope that the situation in this country can be such that we will never need this kind of control of our economy. But it is a matter which the committee must consider and upon which it must make a recommendation. Speaking for myself and judging from the calls I have had from the people in my constituency as well as the letters that I have received from my constituents and other people, I am satisfied that the mood of the country, if it can be measured on the basis of telephone calls, letters and conversations, is such that the people would now accept at least a temporary freeze on wages and prices. The committee has a duty to consider this remedy, but the government has a duty to the House and to the country in that regard. No one would expect the government to announce a system of wage and price controls unless it is debated in the House first, and after they have determined to impose such a remedy, if they ever do. But everyone expects this government to come clean with the committee and with the country. Everyone expects the government to lay its cards on the table.
The Trudeau government has said that they have contingency plans. They have a duty to this committee, this House and this country to produce plans. The country should know how far the government intends to go if it decides to impose wage and price controls. Would their
Food Prices Committee
plan include a prices and wages review board? What other machinery would be included in their contingency plan? Indeed, do these plans go beyond the mere control of food prices and do they venture into the field of rent, housing, and other incomes as well as all the other components in the total inflation picture?
The government has said that these contingency plans are in existence. They should not be hidden behind the words "in due course". The government should now take this country into its confidence. More important, they have said that they will impose these contingency plans "when the time comes". They have a duty to tell this committee, to tell the House and the country what criteria they will consider in determining when the time has come. I say this, and I say this with some sorrow, that I am satisfied that the indecisive and unresponsive attitude of this government in all matters, whether in postal disputes, industrial disputes or even on the matter of prices, has encouraged rather than discouraged changes and increases in prices. I am satisfied as well that the government has contributed to an attitude in Canada where large price increases are now considered inevitable by all those engaged in the market, and as a result those who now ask us for remedies find themselves in the midst of a crisis.
The government has a duty to make a full disclosure. If they do not, then the committee may well be a charade, and I hope it never becomes that. If they do make a disclosure, then I put it to you that it is reasonable to expect that the glimmer of optimism which some of us still hold may be justified. I do not think I shall take up any more of the time of the House in this debate. There are other hon. members who wish to speak on the question and instruct the committee.
Subtopic: FOOD PRICES