Mr. A. W. NEILL (Comox-Alberni):
Mr. Speaker, in the discussion of this bill, which the minister has so ably explained, we are handicapped because we have not before us- except from memory-the data the minister has placed on the record. We cannot very well work out a reply based upon figures at which we have had only a fleeting glance.
When this matter was before the house on an earlier occasion I expressed some criticism with respect to the conditions under which the bill might operate. At that time it was presented in a somewhat vague form. Now, however, when it is in the shape of a concrete bill, there will probably be no opposition to the passing of it, any more than there was to the passing of the bill dealing with agricultural products. But there probably will be considerable criticism of the method by which it is proposed to carry out the provisions contained in the bill.
No one could reasonably object to the theory-if I may be pardoned for calling it a theory-of putting up the sum of $25,000,000 to help correct a condition of low prices in the fishing industry. Perhaps my calling it a theory could hardly be justified, when the proposal is one of spending $25,000,000 to boost an industry. What I am anxious about is-if, when and how it can be made to work.
At this stage I should like to make a few remarks following what the minister said in connection with the bill itself, because. of course I could not anticipate what he was going to tell us. He suggested, and I hope correctly, that we were coming to the beginning of a new era, a new world. I am sorry to have to say so, but experience and history tell us not to be too optimistic. We thought these great thoughts about a brave new world after the last war. Until the millennium comes; until the doctrines laid down by Christ come into practical operation, I am afraid human nature will remain as it is, and human nature has a disposition to endeavour to get ahead t the expense of the other fellow.
The minister made allusion to the way in which a small fish board worked in the east in 1939 and 1940, and said that that legislation had worked well. Quite so; and this bill will work well if we continue on a rising market, or, in other words, if we do not need this measure. But there is a world of difference between setting floor prices on a rising market, which any one can do, and dealing with these prices in a time of depression such as we had in the early thirties. Unless I am grossly mistaken I believe the minister is basing his policy on a wrong premise, although perhaps that is the only one available to him. He uses the word "average," and says that at the end of the year he is going to average prices and find o.ut what has been paid. Then, as I understood, although of course I may be wrong, in some way he is going to pay something additional to those producers who have not received the average price, and in that way make up the difference to them. That word "average" goes to the root and ruination of the whole situation. It is a word beloved of governments. When you are dealing with the government you must almost always do things on an average, but you cannot do them in that way in real life. We cannot all live up to the same ideals; we cannot all live on the same income, and we cannot all produce fish or potatoes or anything else at an average cost. That is humanly impossible. At the end of the year the minister can tell us the average pricq obtained for cod or salmon or potatoes, but that does not solve the difficulty that one man can produce potatoes at $40 a ton, while another man, working no harder, can produce them for half that cost. The same applies in connection with various fish markets. It might be the wrong average, but let us suppose the average was correct. The average of anything is an exact medium between the highest price or higher prices and the lowest price or lower prices; but you cannot live on an
average. You have to live on what you can get. The demand would immediately arise: "You fixed an average on salmon of ten cents," we will say for the sake of argument, "and you cannot produce it in the east or the west for less than fifteen cents." But the government says that the average price was ten cents. Then the fishermen of one district say, "We sold below the average and lost money. We were nearly ruined; we had to scrape very close." I cannot see any virtue at all in dealing with things on an average basis. I would suggest, rather, that you use the best statistics available and say that a certain class of fish is worth perhaps ten cents a pound, that you will keep the price up to that figure and let the man who has been selling for less than that simply drop out. But that makes it pretty tough on him, and the whole purpose of the bill is to protect him.
Then the minister made another point. In dealing with the returns from the fish he said that for various reasons, particularly lack of labour, the production of fish had gone down. It is a little difficult to figure out the relative production when it is expressed in such a low unit as hundredweights, but I woud suggest that there is very little complaint on the score of decreased production. In the east, if I took down the minister's figures correctly, there was actually an increase in quantity. There was a slight reduction in the west, but I suggest that it was not due to lack of labour, because the people out there made a special effort to increase production and in most cases succeeded in doing so. The fact that there was a comparatively small reduction in the quantity of fish caught does not arise at all from lack of labour. People who are familiar with the fishing industry in the west know that the quantity caught depends very largely upon the size of the runs. You might put out a million fishermen and if the run was not there they would not catch any more fish than a couple of hundred fishermen. The famous big run in the Fraser river every four years used to be four and five times the size of the run in other years. No one knew why, but that was the fact; the sockeye run in the Fraser river was enormous every fourth year. Then there is the run of pink salmon. In the majority of places in British Columbia the pink run, which is the second biggest run, occurs only every second year, and as yet no man has discovered the reason for it. So that it would not matter whether you put out a million fishermen; in the off year you would not get any more pinks than what comparatively a few fishermen could handle.
That applies right down the line. I have seen a large fleet go out to catch pilchards,
which they use in the reduction plants. Owing to the current, the heat of the water, or some other reason, the catch might be only a fraction of the catch the year before with fewer boats. Sometimes the pilchards will come within gunshot of the refinery door, almost begging to be taken in; at other times you will have to go two or three hundred miles away and then have difficulty in finding them. I remember that on one occasion the government hired an aeroplane to hunt for them, and they were discovered away down the Pacific coast near California, far from where they are ordinarily found. So that the slightly smaller production of fish on the west coast is not due to any lack of fishermen. I emphasize that particularly, because perhaps in months to come this will be trotted forward as a reason for putting the Japs back in the fisheries. I assure the minister that more fishermen took out licences last year, after the Japs were eliminated, than previously. That is a positive statement; more fishing licences were issued in British Columbia after the Japs were eliminated than before, so that any slight decrease in production was not due to the absence of our yellow brethren.
This bill was brought in very hurriedly, as is only natural at the end of the session, and before we had time to consult the people most concerned. In order that I might get the views of those people, immediately the bill appeared I sent copies of it to the three largest unions of fishermen on the west coast, asking their opinion. Yesterday I had a letter from two of the unions; I have not heard from the third. I should like to quote from the joint reply. They wrote sensibly and at some length, and I should like to mention some of the salient points. They said:
While Minister of Fisheries Bertrand undertook that when the time came to appoint the board, he would recommend that one of the three members of the board would be a fisherman, he refused to commit himself that such would be the case.
Ignoring for the moment the merits of the bill to meet the situation which it is designed to remedy, it is clear that the contemplated composition of the board is hardly adequate.
The stated purpose being to assure die fisherman an adequate return for his labour, surely there can be no reasonable objection to stating in the act that some members of the board shall be directly chosen by the fishermen themselves. And since there are so many differences in conditions between t'he Atlantic and Pacific fisheries it would seem, too, that either there should be two boards-eastern and western-* or a larger board to provide adequate representation for both coasts.
A board of five members, consisting of representatives of fishermen and the trade from each coast with a chairman representing the Department of Fisheries would seem the most practical
solution. A quorum could consist of three meeting at either coast, and we hope that the bill will be amended along these lines in committee before it is passed.
And later on:
We see no harm, in the principle of the bill. It represents at any rate a recognition that some protection must be provided the fisherman against the vagaries of unregulated economic conditions. We share the hope expressed by the minister that it will not be needed but we would emphasize that hopes alone are insufficient. . . .
Legislation to meet post-war conditions in the fishing industry will need to include measures for conservation of fisheries, marketing of products and regulation of fishing including licence limitation, on all of which matters the fishermen's organizations are now' in the process of preparing a considered programme.
That is a very moderate presentation. I wish to make some comments of my own. I do not see why there should not be some provision in this bill for something like the participation certificates in the wheat business. If the government is to take over large quantities of fish and there is a change in the market conditions or what-not and they reap a substantial profit, I think the fishermen would be entitled to participate by means of participation certificates.
The second matter which I should like to mention has not been referred to by the fishermen. The government is not going to fix a price for fish; it is going to fix a minimum price, and I am afraid that there will be a dangerous trend on the part of the trade to accept the minimum price as the basic price. They will say, "You want ten cents but the minimum is five cents a pound; I tell you what we will do; we will give you five cents, the government price." I am afraid an attempt will be made, unfairly I grant, by those in the market to buy fish cheaply. They will say, "Well, the government have put a price of five cents on fish which is equivalent to saying that you can produce it at that; we will give you that and no more." I think the government should take cognizance of that fact. It is not as though they were fixing the price of fish right on up the line; they are simply fixing a minimum, and the trade may say, "The government experts have said that you can produce fish at five cents a pound, and we will pay no more."
My idea w'ould be not to have a minimum but to fix a price for each grade of fish. That could! be fixed according to what experience and statistics showed was a reasonable level. Then the government could supplement it by subsidies. It could subsidize, as my hon. friend said, up to that amount. You would then get away from the danger of having the minimum price regarded as the basic price.
Topic: PRICES1 OF FISH AS LANDED EAST COAST