March 17, 1922 (14th Parliament, 1st Session)


Alan Webster Neill


Mr. NEILL (resuming) :

When the
House rose last evening I was about to take some points in the Speech from the Throne. The first point to which I wish to draw attention is that section of the Speech which deals with unemployment. I consider the unemployment question has two phases as dealt
The Address

with in this speech. The first is in reference to the obligation to relieve the distress caused by unemployment, and the other is the necessity to take steps to prevent unemployment. The Government claim that the matter of the relief of those absolutely destitute is fundamentally a municipal and provincial responsibility. I am not in a position to dispute that statement, and, as it has not been dealt withby the leader of the Opposition, I assume the statement is correct; but I hold the Government entirely responsible for taking steps to do away with unemployment, though they do not deal with the question of relief. In that regard I wish to quote just a few words from a debate in the British House of Commons. One of the members of the cabinet said, speaking about unemployment-
He thought the speech of the Prime Minister had denoted the fact that Parliament had concurred in the view and accepted the task of governing the people of this country by providing the masses with two conditions, employment and contentment.
Another member of the government, G. M. Barnes, said, speaking on the same subject-[DOT]
The classes who have the running of this country would be judged in proportion as they could And organized employment for the great mass of the people.
I think that is a very well-founded theory of the unemployment situation to-day, and I consider that if the Government could take such steps as would lead, so to speak, to the abolition of unemployment, it would be not only good statesmanship but good political expediency;-after all, the practical politician always keeps one eye on the ballot box. We all know that a contented voter is a Government voter. If times are good and work plentiful, the average voter will not desire a change of Government, but our experience is that when a voter becomes discontented he is ready at once to take a chance on a change of Government. Unemployment is so universal now that it has gone beyond a national question, and has become an international question. Each nation has endeavoured to solve the question for itself, generally by building up high tariff walls to keep their people employed, within the boundaries of each nation. I believe wider action will have to be taken, before world-wide unemployment will disappear. It may be that I have a fantastic idea as to the remedy, but I hold that the only way to handle the unemployment situation is for all nations, without exception, to cancel their war debts. I read a

treatise the other day by an American professor in one of the economic colleges. It is called "America and the Balance Sheets of Europe". It goes very fully into this question, taking each nation in turn, and shows that these nations are heading, not slowly but rapidly, towards bankruptcy. He shows that in many states the income is as low as 28 per cent of expenditure, and he asks where this is going to end. He states that one of two things have to be done by these nations, either they will have to add to their debt, which will make a worse budget for them, or issue more paper money, which is equally disastrous. He points out, after a very well-studied exposition of the subject, that the only solution is for the nations of the world to cancel their debts universally, and, though an American professor, he suggests that the first step should be taken by America, because she has most to gain. He points to the anomalous and almost absurd position, that every nation in the world is demanding that Germany, and every nation, should pay what they owe in money, and they refuse to accept payment in the only manner in which Germany could possibly pay, and that is in goods. Germany says: "We have not a gold reserve to pay you, and we will pay you in goods"-The other nations say: "We do not want your goods". France has to a very small extent accepted some goods as reparation in connection with the damage to the devastated area, but it is a very small and restricted amount. The other nations absolutely refuse to take the goods. Germany says: "We are willing to work long hours at low wages; our currency has depreciated; we can land our goods in your market at a very low price, if you will allow us to sell you those goods in payment for our debt." But the nations will not accept these goods, and build up tariff walls against them. If the nations were content to cancel the war debts, there would be such a demand for manufactured articles that it would go far to do away with unemployment. That is a theory it perhaps does not become me to enunciate in this House at the present time.
The next item in the Speech from the Throne is the statement that the Government has taken steps to obtain better and wider markets, and this refers particularly to trade with Australia. I am particularly interested in that branch of the subject and I hope the Minister of Trade and Commerce, when he makes the treaty with Australia, will not forget to take into consideration

The Address
the pulp and paper industry. Australia has a preferential tariff with the Mother Country on paper. If that tariff were extended to Canada it would he of the very greatest benefit to the paper and pulp industry, especially on the Pacific coast. I think there are some six large paper mills in British Columbia, four of them are in my district, and they employ a large body of men. There are two towns associated with those mills, and there are also logging camps, in which a large number of men are employed directly and indirectly by the industry. Two of the four mills are shut down, and the other two are running at half capacity. If this arrangement with Australia be carried out, of our getting the same preferential rate on paper as is given to the Old Country, it would give a tremendous stimulus to the paper mills of British Columbia and would to a large extent help the unemployment situation there.
We come now to the question of railway rates. There is a suggestion that some measure of relief may be obtained, or will shortly be obtained, in connection with railway rates. If this is anything more than a mere vague reference to the subject, if there is any established knowledge behind that, or any certain belief that this can be accomplished, if I had been drawing up the Speech, instead of putting this in an obscure corner of a paragraph, I would have displayed it in great, big letters two inches long, right across the Speech. Reduction of freight rates is one of the most important and immediately pressing matters that can be carried out in this House at the present time.
I should like to mention an incident; it is only an incident; but it can be duplicated, no doubt, in a thousand cases. This ocurred in>
my own riding. In the valley of Al-berni, in which I live, there is a saw mill located at Port ATberni. It is not a very big mill as we in British Columbia regard saw mills; but it has a capacity that allowed it to send, not three cars, but three great trains a week of lumber into the prairies. This lumber was all consigned to the prairies, going out regularly three trains a week, with occasionally an extra train. In the fall of 1920, increased freight rates suddenly went into effect. Inside of three weeks that mill was shut down-that was about October-and it was not opened again until the following June. When it did begin to ship again, not one stick of lumber went over that railroad en route to the
prairies; it is all going by water route to the Orient. That condition of affairs can be duplicated in, not one mill, but hundreds of mills in British Columbia. That gives an illustration of what high freight rates do as regards promoting or preventing trade. It contains a moral also for the railway company. That railway company are still running freight trains into that district, two trains a week; but for the most part they bring in empty cars and for the most part they take empty cars out. There is a little local freight, a few carloads of fish and so on; but for the most part those railway trains are running nearly as regularly as before, and they are carrying practically nothing. Would it not be far better to carry the lumber that was available for carrying, even at reduced freight rates? It is a matter of fact that any business or any railway can always secure a certain quantity of what might be called the irreducible minimum of traffic. If the corner grocery sells a loaf of bread at double the price at which it can be obtained at another grocer's store six blocks down town, it will always catch a certain trade, those who are in a hurry or in certain circumstances. That is the irreducible minimum. The railway that holds up its rates to a high extent will always catch that measure of trade that it is absolutely imperative must go over the road, and any railway will get that; but no industry or no railway ever paid its way on the irreducible minimum of trade or traffic; it is only the extra business, after the overhead is paid, that makes it profitable either to a business or a railway. When they cut down their freight rates and get the extra business, they get beyond the irreducible minimum and down to a profitable basis.
Some hon. members may be familiar with the London and Brighton railway which is a fairly large railway in the Old Country. In its report of last year it says that, owing to the high fares, nine million fewer passengers were carried. That is, not that nine million passengers were carried, but that nine million fewer were carried1 owing to the high passenger fares, and that is on a little railway running between London and Brighton. That is a specimen of what business one is likely to lose by increasing freight or passenger rates above what the traffic will stand.

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