May 16, 1923 (14th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Charles A. Stewart (Minister of Immigration and Colonization; Minister of Mines; Minister of the Interior; Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs)


Mr. STEWART (Argenteuil):

I leave my right hon. friend to deal with that if he speaks in this debate. Not only in agriculture, in business and in commercial life, but in every line of activity we had inflation in Canada during the war period. I am not blaming our predecessors in office for that; inflation was prevalent in every country. But some of our problems to-day are resultant from that inflation. My right hon. friends of the Progressive party have laid great stress on the fact that agriculture in this country is in a critical state. I am vitally interested in agriculture, indeed, outside the business of looking after some of the departments of government I have no other interest, and therefore I know something about our agricultural conditions. I do not deny that they are critical, but I do deny that this is the most strenuous period through which our agriculture has passed. In my own experience of less than forty years I have known worse conditions agriculturally than we are going through to-day. The economic condition in Canada is not altogether responsible for all our difficulties; if it were, similar difficulties would not prevail in other countries. I challenge my hon. friends in any part of the House to name any country to-day in which agriculture is in a prosperous condition. It is true that in the United States we have the reverse side of the picture; we cannot say of the United States, as we have to say
of Canada, that as a result of the agricultural depression there is depression in industry as well. While the present conditions are bad, we have had other periods just as bad, and I will name one: the period between 1890 and 1896 was characterized by just as much depression in agriculture as exists to-day and that depression was just as severely felt. We recovered from that, however, and made splendid progress in later days.
Now, what is the main difficulty that we have to face to-day as a government? As a result of the war we have to provide a huge annual budget. We have been extravagant in many directions in Canada, and we have not been alone in that respect. The conditions through which we passed induced it and encouraged it. One of the most difficult things to orevent in any country is a condition of inflation, something we fondly call prosperity, a condition that leads to extravagance, large expenditure, and unfortunate speculations that afterwards we must pay for. The war placed a tremendous burden of taxation upon the people. In addition, our provincial governments through force of circumstances, have been extravagant in their expenditures, ha'e in many cases expended beyond the legitimate bounds in many cases. Perhaps the province of Quebec, from which my good friend the Minister of Justice (Sir Lomer Gouin) comes, is an exception; they have not gone as far in that direction as the other provinces. Our municipalities, too, have expended beyond legitimate bounds. So that to-day we have the problem of paying the accumulated debts and the borrowings that we made against future prosperity. I do not wish to paint a picture that will indicate lack of hope, or the impossibility of improvement, or the impracticability of our emerging from these difficulties with credit to ourselves. I do not think that states the case at all. Nor do I wish to be classed as an optimist who has no good reason for his optimism.
We have, then a public debt, as the member for Centre Winnipeg (Mr. Woodsworth) pointed out the other day, amounting to $450 per capita. My hon. triend was more than generous >n his estimate of the earning power of the Canadian family of five, which he placed somewhere in the neighbourhood of $3,000 per annum. He stated that each family must make provision for $100 to meet its share of the public debt. That is a very heavy drain. But we have in Canada vast resources which are yet unt niched, great areas of cultivable land, valuable mineral districts, large timber properties, pulpwood areas, and
The Budget-Mr. Stewart (Argenteuil)
so on, all awaiting development. We have a splendid heritage; let us hope that we shall be able, notwithstanding the tremendous burdens that we have undertaken, to emerge successfully from our difficulties.
The situation becomes a serious one from the point of view of taxation. My hon. friends of the Piogressive party say that we have not gone far enough m the way of reductions. While the depression began, perhaps, with agriculture, it has spread to other lines of business and has made itself felt there. If my hon. friends had to raise money to meet Canada's obligations and to carry on the public service, they would have to exercise due care with respect to the position in which we find ourselves. And what is that position? As the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Motherwell) enunciated yesterday, for at least thirty years bus'ness and industry have been built up in Canada under a system of protection. The statistics show that the number of businesses operating in Canada have increased in the last ten years from 14,000 to almost 35,000; tha^ the investment has doubled and the number of people employed has more than doubled. Rightly or wrongly, representatives of these various businesses have lepeatedbr stated that they cannot compete with industries across the line and elsewhere unless they are given reasonable protection.

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