February 1, 1916 (12th Parliament, 6th Session)

LIB

Levi Thomson

Liberal

Mr. THOMSON:

I have no charge to-make myself. I do not wish to deal with this question in any fault finding spirit, but rather with a view to eliciting information, and to stating as clearly as possible the viewpoint of the western farmer. I think my hon. friend from Moosejaw (Mr. Knowles) and my hon. friend from Assiniboia (Mr. Turriff) have clearly shown that one class of the farmers of the West sustained considerable loss through the Government's action in commandeering the wheat. I do not intend, however, to deal with that phase of the question. I do not think that that was the most serious loss sustained by the western farmers through this seizure. The most serious loss, in my opinion, was caused by the disturbance of trade. We have been told that the Government have loaned to the millers a large proportion of the wheat that was seized. I believe that this is unquestioned. We have also been told that a large portion was loaned to the dealers to
enable them to fill their contracts. This, however, has been denied, and I think we should be told whether it is a fact or not. If it is a fact, I think we have a right to know how much was loaned, to whom, and when it was repaid. If the dealers had to buy wheat at a higher price at a later date, whether to repay the Government or to fill their original contracts, they would be the losers unless the Government recouped them, and we have had no information so far that they were recouped. If there was a loss, who bore that loss? If I am selling goods to a purchaser who has had other lots of goods which he had bought on former occasions, forcibly seized, and if he is still in fear of further seizures, it would be -absurd for me to expect as high a price from him as if he were not afraid of further seizures.
It would be absurd for the western, farmers to suppose that they would get the same price from the grain dealers after the seizure in question, as they would have received had there been no seizure and no fear of any future seizure. It would be absurd also to suppose that the dealers did not recoup themselves from the only source from which they could do so, that is, from the farmers. That they did iso recoup themselves is clearly indicated by the fact that there has -been since the date of the seizures a tremendous increase in the spread between the prices at Minneapolis and those at Fort William. I find, on a careful perusal of the market reports from the 1st of September of last year, the beginning of the wheat season, up to the time of the seizure, that the price for the highest quoted grade at Minneapolis was on an average -about 5 cents a bushel higher than the price for the highest quoted grade at FoTt William. The Minneapolis quotations, however, are for No. 1 hard, while *the For-t William quotations are for No. 1 northern, and the Canadian spread between No. 1 hard and No. 1 northern is about a cent. Therefore, assuming that the value of the Minneapolis No. 1 hard is the same as that -of the Canadian No. 1 hard, we should ^deduct one cent, which would reduce the -difference between the two quotations to four cents. That, however, has nothing to do with my argument at present.
I find that, since the date of the seizure, -the average spread has been nine cents a bushel; or, if you deduct the one cent, it has been eight cents. -What is the reason for that increase of four cents in the spread? I do not .think the western farm-

ers will be very long in coming to the conclusion that the Winnipeg dealers are in this way making up whatever loss they have sustained. It is a simple way, and in fact, the only way in which they can. make it up. The loss to the farmers is unquestionable, but it is not necessarily unjustifiable. If it can be shown that the action taken by the Government'was in the best interest of the Empire and absolutely necessary, then it was 'justified notwithstanding any losses to the farmers or anyone else, and no one will be more ready to agree to that proposition than- the Western fannex; but I think we are entitled to some explanation of the action of the Government. We have heard what have been termed explanations, -but unfortunately the explanations do not explain. Let me refer to some of these explanations. I will quote an extract from an editorial in the Winnipeg Telegram of November 30, 1915, as follows:
Instead - of condemnation and criticism, it will be found that the Dominion Government is deserving of the highest credit for having taken an unprecedented course to protect the British consumer, overburdened., as it is by the colossal burdens of war, against the designs of the wheat gamblers who think of profits day and night and of practical patriotism, not at all. -
One reason is given to us in this editorial; but the trouble is that it does not explain how the action of the Government protected the British consumer, and we have no explanation of the necessity of that action further than that the Winnipeg dealers are a pack of scoundrels waiting to rob the British Empire whenever they get a chance. I am a life-member of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers' Association, and have attended a number of conventions-. I have heard some pretty hard things said there of the Winnipeg grain dealers, and perhaps with some reason but I have never heard anything half as hard as this. I have never heard it suggested that they are utterly devoid of patriotism, and I do not believe that charge is true, whatever else may be said of them.
The following is an article from the Winnipeg Telegram, written by its staff correspondent at Ottawa under date of November 30, 1915:
The Government In commandeering the wheat had several objects in view: to protect the Allies against exorbitant prices, to secure to the producer any subsequent rise in wheat values, and also to demonstrate to the Allies that as purchasing agents they could he depended upon to fill orders promptly and economically.
A number of reasons are given in this article, but it does not explain how -the action taken could protect the Allies; it does not explain why it was necessary to take these steps to protect the Allies, nor how this action could secure to the producer any subsequent rise in wheat values. As was shown here yesterday, instead of securing to the producer any subsequent rise in wheat values, the Government absolutely deprives him of it. That is a publicly known fact. I think we should have an explanation as to how the action of the Government would demonstrate to the Allies that the Dominion could be depended on as a purchasing agent to fill orders promptly and economically, and how they were useful as purchasing agents in the case cited. The extracts I have quoted are at best semi-official statements; but we have some official statements; we have copies of telegrams sent by the Solicitor General to the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. One of them which I have copied from the Manitoba Free Press of the 29th of November, 1915, is as follows:
Government hopes Winnipeg Grain Exchange will realize that the action taken by the Government arises primarily from war conditions and is also actuated by earnest desire to secure timely markets for our very abundant crops. The present opportunity to that end might otherwise have been lost.
That is very fine, like most of the productions of my hon. friends of the Solicitor General, but, like the rest of them, it explains nothing. We are not told what the war conditions are which rendered this action necessary, nor how this action secured timely markets for our abundant crops, and it is very hard for us to see how it would do so.
From another official document issued by the Government some quotations were given by the right hon. leader of the Opposition. Here are some short extracts from that document-I will not read it all:
The phenomenal crop of wheat in the Canadian west has brought upon the Government the duty of assisting to the farthest extent possible in this marketing.
Further on it says:
The British Government has requested the Canadian Government to provide within a short time a very large supply of No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 northern wheat.
And at the end of the document appears the following:
The action taken by the British Government is based entirely on war conditions, and the response of the Canadian Government has been dictated by the same state of facts.

In this statement it is nowhere said that the Imperial Government had requested this Government to commandeer the wheat. There is no doubt, however, that the statement sent that impression, abroad throughout the country, nor is there any doubt that the intention of the Government was that that impression should go abroad throughout the country. There is no doubt that tihe same impression was conveyed in Great Britain by that statement, for we find the following British statement quoted in the Manitoba Free Press of 30th November:
London, November 29.-The official Press Bureau made the following statement to-day: "With reference to the announcement from Ottawa on November 28, that the Canadian Government had commandeered sixteen million bushels of wheat at the request of the British Government, the Board of Agriculture states that the Government has made no such request and that at present they have no information on the subject."
So I say not only was the impression conveyed throughout Canada, but also throughout Great Britain, that the Canadian Government's action was at the request of the British Government. And from the last clause of. the statement I have quoted it is quite clear that whatever our Government did they failed hopelessly to keep in touch, as they should have, with the Imperial Government. While on. this subject I must refer to a point that was dealt with by the hon. member for Assini-boia (Mr. Turriff) yesterday. I refer to the calling of Mr. Crerar, President of the Grain Growers' Grain Company, and of Mr. Crowe, a prominent member of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, to consult with the' Government. Yesterday the hon. member for Assiniboia quoted from the interview with Mr. Crerar in the Winnipeg Telegram, and I do not need to read that again. But it is quite clear that'these gentlemen were called in to advise the Government, and their advice was eminently good, but it was turned down flat. Let me quote very briefly from an interview with Mr. Crowe, published in the Manitoba Free Press of 30th November:
I argued as strongly as I could against commandeering of the wheat.
To get back to the question of the effect of this action on the people of the West: I repeat that, even though the effect were to cause loss to the western farmer, if it were necessary in the interest of the British Empire, the commandeering of the wheat would be justifiable. Further, I grant that it is conceivable that circumstances may
fMr. Thomson.]
arise under which, in order to protect the British consumer, commandeering would be necessary. But it seems to me that tihat time will come later, if ever it does come. The time of danger is when the wheat has got out of the farmers' hands. Never be alarmed about reports of a sudden rise in price when the grain is in the farmers' hands. But if the Government wishes to secure necessary supplies for the British consumer while the grain is in the farmers' hands there need ibe no difficulty about it, provided the Minister of Trade and Commerce takes the farmers into his confidence. If I may be allowed a personal word, I may say that I still have a carload of wheat in the granary on my own farm. I have sold the rest of my grain to meet the demands of the most clamorous of my creditors, but the rest of them I am holding at arm's length and trying to keep this car of "wheat in the hope of a rise later on. If the Minister of Trade and Commerce will assure me that it is necessary to the welfare of the Empire that he should have that wheat, I am prepared to send a telegram to my home now asking them to ship the wheat to the minister's order. We will not quarrel about the price, either he can pay me to-day's price, tomorrow's price, next week's price, or the price of the week after that. Nor am I alone; there are thousands of farmers in the West who are of the same mind with me. The hon. minister may say that it would not be possible to deal with individual farmers in that way. Then, my hon. friend from Assiniboia has shown him a way out of that difficulty. Let him deal with the farmers' companies, the Grain Growers, Grain Company, and the Saskatchewan Oo-oper-ative Elevator Company. Let the minister make a request of the secretaries of those companies and say that it is necessary and advisable in the interests of the Empire that wheat should he secured, and if those officials turn down the request and fail to do everything possible to assist the hon. gentleman there will he a day of reckoning coming for those officials; the next company elections will clear them out.I pain assure the minister that the patriotism of the Western farmer is enough to ensure that. I can tell him that the main difficulty in, dealing with the western farmers is that he has not hadsufficient confidence in them. He hasbeen rather devoid of faith in .them.
The greatest teacher the world ever

produced says that if we had faith as a grain of mustard seed we might do wonderful things. The lack of that faith as a grain of mustard seed is the trouble with the Minister of Trade and Commerce. " To him that believeth all things are possible," ' amid I would say to the Government: "0'h ye of little faith, wherefore did ye doubt? Why did not you deal openly and fairly with the western farmers instead of launching that thunderbolt on Saturday night or Sunday morning, whichever you like to call it, disturbing the Sabbath rest of the ' grain dealers in Winnipeg as the Solicitor General kept telegrams flashing throughout the day?" I do not see any occasion to disturb the Sabbath rest of these gentlemen Bind deprive them of the consolations of religion. I do not know that I blame the Minister of Trade and Commerce very much, for he is not in touch with the western farmers, and I do not think he understands the mind of the western farmer. But the Solicitor General, who was acting for him, is inexcusable, because, if he does not know the western farmers by this time he should. Either he does not know or he altogether ignored the facts of the case. The farmers are willing to do anything in reason for the benefit of the Empire, but we want to know why the action taken by the Government was necessary. We want explanations, that explain. We want to know how the action taken protected the consumer and the producer; how it secured markets and supplied requirements. Could not the end have been accomplished better in other ways? We want to know exactly what -was done with every bushel of wheat seized, and I think we Have a right to know that. Was grain loaned to the millers and dealers, and if so on what conditions, and how was the loan repaid? What was done in regard to. the increase in price? We are satisfied to lose if it is necessary in the interests of the Empire, but we want an explanation that explains, and we believe we are entitled to it. .

Topic:   THE GOVERNOR GENERAL'S SPEECH.
Subtopic:   * ADDRESS IN REPLY.
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