June 4, 1917 (12th Parliament, 7th Session)


Martin Burrell (Minister of Agriculture)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Hon. MARTIN BURRELL (Minister of Agriculture):

Mr. Speaker, there has also
been a little deadlock in regard to the matter of the purchase of cheese by the Imperial 'Government and perhaps I might make a statement on that matter because last week when unfortunately I was not [DOT]able to be present in the House the hon. member for Glengarry (Mr. McMillan) made a statement which was substantially correct and I think my hon. friend from Russell (Mr. Murphy) also put a question to the House which was answered by my right hon. friend the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Borden) who, I noticed, in reading Hansard, stated that I would give further information if I had it. If you will permit me, I would like to give a very short review of the situation without which the present condition wpuld not be very intelligible.
Last autumn the British authorities communicated with tire Canadian Government with the idea of seeing whether it would be possible for them, in some manner or other, to secure the whole exportable surplus of Canadian cheese. We pointed out that as it was the close of the season it would be practically impossible to do anything and that if they did wish to achieve anything in that way another season it would be very desirable to commence in January or February when the Government here felt it would be quite feasible to make some arrangement which would be satisfactory all round.
Nothing of that kind,however, was done in January and February, and meanwhile the British authorities had commandeered, through the New Zealand Government, the whole of the New Zealand cheese output at a price of 19 cents f.o.b. In March, through the Prime Minister, who was then in England, there was a suggestion that we should secure the whole of the Canadian cheese output for this year by a process of com-

mandeering. The Government, after thoroughly considering the whole matter, advised the Prime Minister and through him the Imperial Government, that we did not consider a process of commandeering cheese would 'be a very satisfactory method in regard to Canada, whose conditions were entirely different from those in New Zealand. We pointed out that New Zealand oiperated through a limited number of factories which were all not only manufacturing agencies but selling agencies as well, and that this system was an entire contrast to that in this country, where we have
3,000 factories and where the whole trade is done through cheese buyers and an organized trade. Therefore we said it would not be practicable to commandeer the cheese. Some correspondence went on by cable, and it was then suggested that a commission should be appointed, on which the British authorities would have one representative, with the idea of carrying out the suggestion we had made, namely that in any arrangement to secure the whole cheese production of Canada on satisfactory terms it would be desirable to operate through all the existing trade channels that had carried on their business from time immemorial here. As a result of that, a commission of three was finally appointed. The British authorities-appointed Mr. James McGowan, and informed us by cable that he was sailing for Canada. It was quite obvious that nothing could be done until that commissioner arrived from England. Speaking from memory, I think he did not arrive until the middle or end of April. Meantime the eheese market in Canada had opened, and though there was no heavy demand, as not much cheese was being manufactured, yet the maximum price that had been fixed in England permitted a condition to exist which allowed competitive bidding on this side for the small business that was offered, at a price even in excess of that at last fall, and far in excess of the price at which the New Zealand output had been secured for the Imperial Government. Meantime the shipping problem was also growing very acute, and some what later the British authorities practically ceased permitting -any space to be taken up by Canadian cheese from Canadian ports. There were reports that American and Canadian cheese was going by British and United States ships through American ports, and I think it probable that to some extent these reports were true. At all events, we advised the British authorities of those reports.

It is not necessary for me to say-because every member who has farmers engaged in the dairy business in his constituency has probably had many letters-that all manufacturers of cheese and cheese -buyers were by this time, well on in May, becoming very uneasy for one or two reasons. They were uneasy as to whether it would be practicable to get rid of their cheese at all if no space was to be given to it, and they were also uneasy as to the price, th market was fluctuating, one day it was 26 and 27 cents and later down to 20 cents simply because there was only -a nominal market, and the whole situation was uncertain and vexing. They were beginning to store cheese; storage space was being filled up; they did not know whether to manufacture to a large extent, and in short no one knew where he stood. I would say, in regard to the Commission and its relations with the Government, because there has been a lot of misconception, that obviously this Government could not be responsible for the price the Imperial authorities might be disposed to or could offer for Canadian cheese. It was our idea, so far as the Commission was concerned, to advance the legitimate interests of the cheese producers of this country and to facilitate the action of, and help the British authorities -by arranging the very complicated conditions in regard to the purchase of a commodity like cheese in this country in order that it might all be done with the least possible friction and the greatest possible advantage to both Canada and Great Britain.
Then quite recently it was stated that the British authorities had decided to commandeer all cheese, whether from the United States, or Canada, or Australia, or New Zealand, or any other point, directly it arrived at British ports, and that they had changed their maximum price and were now putting on the market for civilian use, cheese at such a price as would permit it to be retailed at about 16 pence a pound, and naturally there was practically a suspension of business in this country, and nobody knew exactly what was going to be done.
May I assure the House that, in so far as this Government is concerned, every single fact connected with the whole matter has been placed in the fullest possible way before the British authorities, and we have taken this ground, that while we conceive it to be our duty as patriotic and loyal Canadians to assist the Mother Country in every possible way to get those food supplies which are so vital to Great Britain

at this time, it was also our duty to conserve, so far as we could on right lines, every legitimate and fair interest of the producers of this country, and we wanted to achieve, if possible, both those objects.-We pointed out also that if so low a price as 19 cents was likely to be fixed by the British authorities for Canadian cheese, they must not overlook the fact that in the case of such a commodity a very low price would simply result in the diversion of the raw material for cheese to other forms of manufacture that might be more profitable, and although the British Government might get all the cheese manufactured for whatever price they paid, because there was practically no other market, there was still the question of the amount produced, as with too low a price, the manufacturers would divert the raw material to other uses. We pointed out all of these things in the fullest way; we showed that our conditions were not like those in New Zealand, and that our trade conditions called for entirely different treatment. I understand that the British commissioner has now been advised by the Imperial authorities that he is authorized to do some buying at once in order to relieve the deadlock which has existed for some time past, and in this connection may I add that I have been particularly pressing upon the British authorities the vital necessity of making some move at once to relieve the congestion which existed, and to end the uncertainty which w^s practically paralyzing the whole business. As a result of this, I understand that the British commissioner has been authorized to go out and buy for a time at a price of 213 cents f.o.b., Montreal, which, i'f not as satisfactory as some of our cheese manufacturers hoped, is at least more satisfactory than the New Zealand price and is about 2 cents better to the factory than the average price of last year. Whether that condition will improve after a time, I am not in a position to say. I wanted to make this statement to the House in order to assure the members that, so far as we are concerned, absolutely no stone has been left unturned, not only to assist the British Government, but in every legitimate way, to protect the Canadian producer.

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