Mr. H. E. SPENCER (Battle River):
Mr. Speaker, in rising to take part in this debate I wish, along with other members who have spoken before me, to express my regret at the Minister of Finance (Mr. Fielding) not being able to take his seat owing to ill-health. I intend to criticize the budget that is before us, but in doing so I do not wish to align myself with any hon. member who has implied anything against the personal integrity of the Acting Minister of Finance (Mr. Robb) whom I hold in the greatest personal esteem. I do, however, criticize the drawing up of his budget statement, in that I do not think it is a correct one, I do not think it is a fair statement to place 'before the people. I refer particularly to what I might call the financial gymnastics which the Acting Minister of Finance has gone through with respect to the interest owing on the loans to Roumania and Greece. This interest has not been paid, but at the same time it is treated as an asset and, what is more, added to the so-called surplus, making that surplus $5,823,162. I prefer the more logical arguments of the exMinister of Finance (Sir Henry Drayton), which go to prove that instead of having a surplus we have a deficit of no less than $16,204,000.
There is another important side to this question, and that is, it is very misleading to the public, because if the people think there is a surplus they will naturally expect a reduction in taxation. In view of the fact that we have no surplus but a deficit, this reduction is something that cannot very well be brought about. Furthermore, however small a deficit it may be, it is a very difficult task indeed to reduce taxation under our present system. It is difficult because some of our greatest liabilities are brought about by so-called "uncontrollable expenditures." But what are these uncontrollable expenditures? Mainly they are interest on our national debt, and we are to-day paying in interest on that debt as much as it cost to run this country some eleven years ago. It is only fair that the public should know the exact state of our finances, and whoever is in charge of the finance department of the country should not hesitate to put the figures before the public and let them judge for themselves the impossibility of reducing taxation to any large extent.
Now, what is the extent of our national debt? I am going to give some figures with regard to our federal, provincial and municipal debts, taken from the Canada Gazette of December 31, 1924, and from the Canada Year Book for 1923. These are the figures:
Gross debt, Dominion $2,940,099,008 35
Securities guaranteed by Dominion:
As to capital $423,161,713.83
As to interest only.. . 167,349,218.72
Funded and floating debt of provinces, including guaranteed securities, but
excluding sinking funds 697,785,627 00
Funded and floating debt of municipalities of 1,000 to 10,000 706,644,567 00
Total $4,935,040,134 90
Taking our population at nine million, this means that we have a per capita debt of $548. or an average debt of $2,740 for a family of five, the interest on which has to be paid annually by way of taxation.
I have in my hand a copy of the speech made by the hon. member for Laprairie and Napierville (Mr. Lanctot) in this debate, in which he says:
There is still $931,000,000 due to these gentlemen, on bonds which will mature in 1931, 1935 and in 1937. They still have about ten yea-rs of tax exemption, they who forced the government to pass conscription; but these people must prove their gratitude towards us. Why does the House, to-day, not ask, unanimously, the Minister of Finance, to borrow the necessary money to pay these people? I do not wish them to lose a cent on the capital they have lent us, but what I do want, is to pay them off. These gentlemen are responsible, to-day, for a loss of $18,400,000 in the income tax, that we could collect, and nearly $9,000,000 of interest that we should have less to pay.
I wish to compliment the hon. member for bringing these facts before the House. But I would go further than he does, I would recommend that we refund the total of our war debt of over two billion dollars. By refunding it with cheaper capital subject to taxation, we could in all probability save the country upwards of $100,000,000.
Subtopic: CONTINUATION OF DEBATE ON THE ANNUAL FINANCIAL STATEMENT OF THE ACTING MINISTER OF FINANCE