July 3, 1919 (13th Parliament, 2nd Session)

UNION

Edgar Nelson Rhodes (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Unionist

Mr. SPEAKER:

I must advise the House that the minister proposes to exercise his right to close the debate.
Mr. MEIlGHEN: Those members of the House who had hoped that this Bill would have a favourable reception have no cause ' for discouragement at the course of this debate. I have listened with care to the progress of the discussion, and I have endeavoured to discern from the speeches what each hon. member's attitude on this Bill was, I think, with some success. I am not sure that I am able to say that any hon. member distinctly opposes the measure. There has been considerable criticism and some scowling, but in so far as I have discerned, no hon. member has set himself against the Bill itself.
The hon. member for Shelburne and Queen's (Mr. Fielding) tells us that he must oppose it because the session is late and there has not been sufficient time for consideration, not that there is anything in the measure to which he takes exception, not that he is opposed to the formation of a board of commerce with the general powers

embodied in this Bill, but because it is the end of the session and we should not discuss it now. I do not know why there should be any less value in the third day of July than in the 30th'day of January. I do not know what we are to do at the end of the session, nor how we are going to have a session unless there is an end to it. There must be an end, a middle and a beginning. If we have to conduct o.ur session with nothing at the end except congratulations and measures, that mean nothing, we had better finish some time before the end. I do not know how we can use the last few days of the session better than by considering and passing measures which the public demand and which will do the public good. We are not asking any hon. member to rush this measure through. Surely that has not been the attitude of the Government throughout the debate to-night? Nor did the speech, I think, of any hon. member indicate that there was any great scarcity of time or that he was not being given an opportunity to thoroughly review and understand what he has to decide upon.
There was an attitude, as well, on the part of some, to criticise the measure from every standpoint. The hon. member for Bed Deer (Mr. Clark) said that it was the same as the Combines Act of nine years ago-an attempt to regulate an earthquake, that it was an imitation of the wrong end of American legislation and a blinding of ourselves to the right end; in a word, he saw no good and no hope in the measure but he took great care to tell the House that he could not find it in his heart to oppose it. The leader of the Opposition who, I observe was very anxious to overcome, and if possible negative, the maladroit 'move he made the day before yesterday, came forward and stated that some such measure as this was what the Opposition had been looking foT for years and that for his part he would not oppose 'it. If it is good leadership to make an appeal to all classes of the community then he has vindicated the position that he occupies, because he can say to those who do not like the Board of Commerce, and who will criticise it when it comes into existence and starts operation: Why, I opposed the thing from the beginning; I voted against concurrence in the resolution that looked to the establishment of a Board of Commerce. To those, who think that something should be done at this time to take' care of the grosser cases of profiteering he will say: I did not oppose the measure; as a matter of fact I voted for it. He has on his left an hon. member (Mr. MoGrea) who delivered a speech of very considerable value indeed filled with common sense from the beginning until very close to the end and pregnant with a lot of good advice for young and old in this country.
And even he, staid and successful business man as he is, is free to tell this House that he believes a lot of good can come out of such a board as this measure contemplates, and that his only reason for voting against it is to be on the safe side for fear the Board of Commerce does something rash after it comes into existence. I do not quite get the point of the 'last two or three sentences of the speech of the hon. member for Sherbrooke (Mr. MoCrea). We had a scold from the hon. member from Kent (Mr. McCoig), a speech characterized by bad temper and bad logic, and aiming at what results I know not, but discussing everything in the world except the Bill before the House. I am sorry that the hon. member for Bed Deer (Mr. Michael Clark) did not give closer attention to the terms of the measure that he rose to discuss today. He is the slave of a vision. He feels that no subject can be properly discussed until he offers the House a dissertation on the subject of free trade; and in everything that occurs, in Canada or the world over, he is able to find an argument for his favourite theory. 1 believe that if a comet were to alight on this House, he would rise at once to tell us that that was a vindication of his argument, ever since he entered Parliament, in favour of free trade; and no matter what disaster comes in any portion of the world he traces it in some way or the other to protection. Now it must be apparent to a mind as clear as his that the evils sought to be in some way controlled by the Bill before Parliament exist in every country and under all conditions, whether under a protection system, or under a semi-protective system, or under a free trade system. No country in the world is free from them, nor are they more accentuated in this Dominion than in any country on the face of the globe. And in Great Britain to-day, not because of free trade, not because of protection, but uninfluenced by either condition, the combine exerts its pressure-the combine causes, at all events, some suffering. There are combinations of capital that are detrimental to the public interest; there are, in a word, conditions such as will be controlled, regulated, and modified if the Board of Commerce contemplated by this measure .does its work. Surely it also ought to be clear to him that as we are now many generations from the

day when all intelligent countries dealt with (the tariff question, andi when after years, yea, generations of experience, the majority -of the intelligent democracies of the world have, in some form or other, adopted the regulation of trade by tariff, it must be clear to a mind like his, if he could only let it operate, that the democracies have not, after that experience and with these long years of thought and study, adhered to a principle that is obviously and patently false. Tariffs, like every human institution, have their uses and they have their abuses; they have their applications and they have their mis-applica-tions; they can do good under circumstances, and they can do harm under other circumstances; they have their extreme and impetuous advocates who find in them the source of all the blessings we enjoy; and they have as well their equally blind and obdurate foes who seem to see in them only monsters of sin. But tariff or no tariff, high tariff, low tariff, or none at all, the Bill before the House is a good Bill if the board that it contemplates is fearless and able, and addresses itself skilfully to the situation.
Now what I suggest is this; We have throughout this war, and particularly since the war closed, confronted abnormal conditions in Canada. Those conditions are not peculiar to us nor are they accentuated here beyond the measure of their accentuation in other lands. I never yet in my life saw or heard of any man who could look across the 'border as the hon. member for Bed Deer did this afternoon, and tell us that the condition of the high cost of living and the development of combines and monopolies is not existent there, much less have I ever heard a man who would stand up and say that as an advocate of free trade he took comfort to himself in the prosperity of the United States on account of the low tariff of that country. Why, in the United States of America to-day there is not a phenomenon that we see in Canada now that is not present there, and is not present in a greater degree than it is in this country. Who suggests for a minute that the labour troubles they are confronting and passing through now are not just as prevalent and just as difficult, and even more difficult, to contend with than they are in this Dominion? The phase we are passing through in the month of July, 1919, they passed through in the latter end of 1918. We are walking not quite step by step with them, but just a little behind, because their industrial position is just a little further ahead than ours. Every
IMr. Meighen.]
other phenomenon is present there just the same as here; not only industrial unrest but the presence of combinations of capital on the one hand and large combinations of labour on the other hand, and undue oppression or undue profiteering, in some instances, although not the general rule there any more than it is here. All these conditions are present there and they have been present there just as long as here. They have sought a remedy in the United States. They sought a remedy along the lines of this measure and the remedy they sought has not been by any means without effect. For some years they have had what we propose to call a Board of Commerce. They have a Trade Commission, and that Trade Commission has done good work in breaking into the illegal practices or combinations of trade. But the Bill they passed did not admit the one fundamental truth that there may be combinations of capital that are not detrimental to the public interest; there may be combines even that work to the economic advantage of the whole country, and are not against the public interest at all; and as a consequence of failure to recognize that truth they have had to await a long course of judicial decisions in order to get away from the fundamental error of their first legislation; and in the Federal Supreme Court of the United States, by a series of decisions, they have gradually brought the jurisprudence of that country, and indeed the operations of the Trade Commission, to a recognition of the fact that it was not their duty wholly to break up combines in every case or to interfere with the operations of large combinations of capital, but only to do* so where the effect was detrimental, oppressive, and illegitimate in its character. In the Bill that is before the House the operations of the Board of Commerce that will be appointed will be governed by the first principle enunciated in the early part of the measure that will follow this Bill (the twin measure), namely, that they can only deal with such features of combines, monopolies, trusts and mergers, so called, as they find to be detrimental to the public interest.
Furthermore, in the American legislation they did not give the board thereby established any control of prices or of profits; they only permitted them to check such practices as they might find to be unfair. They were given no control such as is given by this Bill, and it is but too evident that there could have been, at all events, greater efficiency in that board if that oontrol had been given to them. In Great Britain, as

Topic:   SUPPLY.
Subtopic:   BOARD OF COMMERCE ACT, 1919.
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