May 26, 1925 (14th Parliament, 4th Session)


Alfred Speakman

United Farmers of Alberta


I see the force of that, but I am certain of this, on the strength of my own experience, that considerable choice was exercised in the purchase of land at that time, when a great many men were selling. Indeed, a great many more men were willing to sell for cash than there were those who desired farms. It has been pointed out again and again that the purchases made then were good purchases; in other words, people were able to buy at rock-bottom prices. And that is one reason advanced why a revaluation is now' unnecessary. I would impress upon the minister the obvious fact that, other things being equal, w'hen you buy for cash and sell on a long term of years at a low rate of interest you are bound to show an appreciation; and I emphasize this because evidently it has not been called to his attention.
There is something else to be considered. We have been trying to treat this matter from a business point of view; we have been trying to deal with it in such a manner that two functions may be performed: first, the re-establishment of men who by reason of their services overseas now require and deserve some assistance in once more taking up civilian life. That is the first object which we have in mind. But there was another. At the time the act wTas put into force, particularly, there was a great demand for increased production on the farms throughout the country and a great desire to colonize the vacant lands. In other words, the whole question was of dual significance; our activities were directed to bring about two desired conditions. And now we are faced with the same dual question. I agree with what has been said by the minister, that Canada has dealt generously with our returned men. No one who has worked on any of the committees or has gone through the estimates year after year and studied the whole history of our legislation in this regard and the expenditures involved, can dispute the fact that this country has done generously by the soldiers, whether under this or under the former government. And it was the former government that passed most of these acts. I am not going to labour that fact. I am however stressing the point as it affects the finances
and the future wellbeing of the country; and while I never advance an opinion as a dictum of fact, at the same time I give it as my opinion that any policy which will retain as great a percentage as possible of men on the land, without sacrificing too great a proportion of the money which has been expended in financing them, is a sound policy from the point of view of the country at large. That is the question for us to consider. In 1922 we tried such a policy to a limited degree. Abandonments were becoming alarming and we tried the reduction of the annual payment by the cancellation of interest during those first years. The result was immediately apparent; abandonments were reduced by almost 50 per cent in that particular period, by reducing the annual payment to an amount that could be met fairly under ordinary conditions. Such a policy would serve to retain a great many of the more valuable men, and that was our reason for asking that this measure be continued. We took another thing into consideration. The minister must remember that in dealing with the percentages of payments made during the last few years we are dealing with payments that are far lower than those which will be made from now on. We are dealing with years during which no interest was charged. By the 1922 amendments we reduced the annual payments by a very heavy percentage, and it was then that the comparatively favourable estimates as to repayments were computed. That is one thing which we must always take into consideration.
The question is, how far is it necessary to go in order to keep those men on the land? That brings up another point. We have been accustomed to look upon land value as the mere price of the land itself, we have been so accustomed to think of it in the terms that a thing is worth what you can get for it, that we forget the other point, that in our colonization and in our soldier land settlement-which is simply another form of colonization-the payments of the land must be -made out of production; in other words, it is the productive value of the land which is the final criterion of its worth in any colonization scheme which we hope to be permanent. It is a question whether on land at a given price a man can produce sufficient wealth to pay his ordinary overhead expenses to carry on the farm and his living expenses and have a sufficient surplus left to take care of this indebtedness. That is the question. If the value is put beyond that point, it does not matter whether we can sell the land or not, it is beyond its real value so far as the
Soldier Settlement Act

settler is concerned, and we cannot hope to retain him there. A significant feature in this connection was disclosed in the committee, when it was shown by the officials that as far as possible their policy was to sell abandoned land to men who already held farms in the immediate neighbourhood. Their reason was to spread the security over a larger volume, and they considered that a man who already held an unencumbered farm was better able to meet his payments than the man who was just settling on the land.
Another fact must be taken into consideration. We have discussed rural credits at different times, and it is the consensus of opinion and experience that no rural credit measure is safe unless it is based on at least a 40 or 50 per cent equity ini the property held-an admission at once that you cannot expect a man to meet his payments if the loan covers the full value of the property itself. In other words, it is not a safe loan. Here we have 100 per cent loans based on prices paid at a time when the productive value was much greater than it is at present, and we expect those men to carry on. From my experience, Mr. Chairman, I say it simply cannot be done. The result is an inevitable drift away from the land, and its resale at what I think will eventually prove to be lower rates to incoming settlers or men already established in the neighbourhood. I would point out to the minister that the statement that there has been an appreciation of values is based on the assumption pure and simple that during the twenty-five years every cent of principal and interest will be paid as it becomes due. Judging by the experience of our own land settlement and colonization and by the experience of rural credit associations throughout the world, and bearing in mind the difference between 60 per cent and the total value of the farm, I think no one will venture to say that that assumption is sound, that simply because someone else has taken the title deeds and agreed to pay so much money for twenty-five years a real appreciation of value is shown or an actual loss avoided. I should like to speak further on this subject, but I am so intensely interested in it that I aim in danger of speaking at too great length. Therefore I intend to discuss it in detail when the bill is before the committee, because I realize that there is nothing more we can do than impress our arguments on the minister and perhaps induce him to bring in more generous terms for the revaluation of live stock.
One other recommendation was made by the committee, a very important one. Re-
cognizing the fact, as portrayed by the member for Bow River (Mr. Garland), a fact that is known to many members of this House and is familiar to the board itself, that during the two or three years of excessive moisture land was sold which under normal conditions was found to be useless, we recommended that power be given to the board wherever such a state of affairs existed-a state to which they themselves had contributed, because although the minister is correct in stating that the men so affected asked for such farms they depended to a large extent, especially where they were young men with little experience, on the opinion given by the inspector; in short, the responsibility was dual-for to re-locate the settlers. Realizing that, the board themselves stated that they would gladly accept this power and transfer those men to better farms free of expense, which means that they would be credited on their new holdings with any moneys which they had paid on their old lands, and1 that the loans for seed, feed and subsistence which had been granted to them during the bad years would be cancelled.
I know the minister is sincerely anxious to do the best possible under the circumstances, yet I believe he has failed to grasp, or his officers have failed to impart to him, the serious situation in the country with regard to those men who need our consideration. I am not blaming him, and I am not saying one word against his officers. It is human nature in any organization for the men engaged in it to make the best possible showing in their reports. Have we ever found any public officials who would not say that their department was well conducted, and that any expenditures made would be returned? They all do it. In resuming my seat I would simply state that when the chairman of the board is in his place, and the minister is in a better position to answer questions and to really discuss this intelligently, I shall then say what I should like to say now.

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