Errick French WILLIS

WILLIS, The Hon. Errick French, Q.C., B.A., M.A., LL.D.

Personal Data

Progressive Conservative
Souris (Manitoba)
Birth Date
March 21, 1896
Deceased Date
January 9, 1967
barrister, farmer

Parliamentary Career

July 28, 1930 - August 14, 1935
  Souris (Manitoba)

Most Recent Speeches (Page 2 of 20)

April 10, 1935


Mr. Chairman, as one who

comes from the drought area of Manitoba I should like to place a few facts before the house. First I should like to point out to those who do not come from the west that the section of Manitoba known as the drought area of that province is a settlement of Ontario citizens. I point that out particularly because sometimes we think that those who are experiencing these conditions out there are of a different sort from ourselves.

I should also like to point out that in that drought area of Manitoba the general practice is to engage in mixed farming, and not to engage in the practice that has been described in this house as mining for wheat. That area was opened up about 1885, and from it many fortunes have been made. Thousands of people have made their money there and moved to the Pacific coast or elsewhere, and at the present time it is largely the second generation that is there.

In the drought areas of Manitoba there are thirteen municipalities. Five of them are in what is known as drought area A; they have suffered for five years a complete crop failure. The eight municipalities in drought area B have for two or three years suffered a crop failure. The land value of these thirteen municipalities is some $56,000,000. The annual crop value within these municipalities, as it was formerly, was some $20,000,000. I realize that in the province of Saskatchewan you could multiply those figures many times over, but that is the situation in Manitoba. The average rainfall there in the past has been some fifteen inches per year. I point that out with a view to demonstrating that the reclamation of that area is completely worth while from a national point of view.

The present situation within that area is that we are now having about one-half of the normal rainfall, the streams have largely dried up, the soil has drifted, with the result that the rate of evaporation has increased, and relief has become general. But the particularly bad feature which I desire to point out, and shall probably stress again, is that the drought area is expanding. Dry winds due to the conditions there have a much greater scope, with the result that more moisture is needed now than was needed in the past. The crop last year within that area was approximately one per cent of the crop which we had in 1928 in the municipalities within drought area A.

It does not help us much to say that conditions south of the line*

we are close to the international border-are much worse, but actually they are much worse. The present situation however presents an opportunity, and a special opportunity, of guarding against a recurrence of these conditions. When times were good people would not bother with reclamation, and that is why the present time creates a special opportunity with rega*d to the projects which are now going forward. I say that this question has a national aspect due to the fact that the drought areas are expanding, and some of those who now sit complacently back may in the future, if nothing is done, face a similar situation even if at present they are not affected by the drought conditions. The people of the district from which I come never suspected in the past that these conditions could obtain there at all. We believed that we had good soil. We have close to that area the Turtle Mountain forest reserve, giving a degree of protection which is helpful. I want to point out to those farmers who do not live in the drought areas that they are carrying on precisely the same practices that we in the drought areas carried on in the past, with the result that they are themselves inviting the same conditions, and if a change is not made they will receive that which they invite. Therefore I think it is absolutely necessary that we plan now, or we shall face worse conditions in the future. I think Joseph was right, that years of plenty are followed by years of poverty, and that that will happen in the future. The dry area itself might be likened to a mighty octopus which is constantly pushing its tentacles into new territory.

I think the proposals outlined by the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Weir) will prove very helpful. According to articles which

Rekabilitalion of Drought Areas

have ap:peared in the press, he has been work- to furnish the very necessary funds, and pering on these for some time. I should like to quote a Canadian press dispatch dated September 5, 1934:

"Officials of this department have made extensive studies of the driedout district," the minister explained. "We have much data with regard to blocking streams, thus holding back the water, lands that should be planted with trees and in regard to the proper grass for other districts.

"Anyone who looks back over the great crops those districts have produced must be convinced that with proper methods they could be saved and made big producers again," Mr. Weir said. "Carefully planned and coordinated effort is necessary over a term of years."

The Mail and Empire of September 6, 1934, quoted the minister as follows:

The Minister of Agriculture has a plan for the districts in which soil erosion prevails. He would remove them from provincial jurisdiction and' form them into a federal area. Then he would inaugurate a policy of strip farming along with the cultivation of suitable grasses and coarse grains. He has expressed the belief that within ten years it would be possible to alter the entire face of the countryside, to bring the land back to its old fibrous state, and to have the farmers self-supporting during the process. His scheme would include the damming of streams for a more effective use of the water supply which is available.

A little later Premier Bracken of Manitoba made a valuable addition to the discussion of reclamation. It might be interesting to note that the premier is a dry farming expert and I believe his textbook in connection with dry farming is generally accepted by agricultural colleges. On October 25, 1934, Premier Bracken put forward certain proposals in this connection. The first was the offer by the provinces of the services of such technical men and departments, without charge, as can be utilized in the prosecution of such a major project. The next was the appointment by the dominion of a coordinating body to correlate the thousand and one efforts being made in a variety of directions by many individuals, both in and out of public service, and by many departments both of governments and of universities. The third was the provision by the dominion for the necessary additional finances to ensure the successful carrying out of a sane, well-balanced program over the next ten years. The fourth was the active and sympathetic and generous cooperation of individuals, communities, railways and governments in a joint effort to solve a major problem.

I believe the proposals made this afternoon by the minister more than cover the suggestions made by Premier Bracken. Other aids are to be provided in connection with this matter of reclamation. The government is 92582-166J

haps that is most important. The plan of setting a township aside for demonstration is very good as this work should be done on a large scale. Smaller demonstration plots will be laid out to show what can be done by the individual intelligent farmer. I think great care has been taken in the preparation of these proposals but I would suggest that the experience and opinion of the men who may have lived in a dried out area for forty years or more should be considered. I have confidence in experts but I have greater confidence in a man who has demonstrated over a period of years that he can carry on successfully in spite of drought conditions. I was glad to note that the minister called into conference at Ottawa experts from different parts of Canada. I might mention in particular Mr. T. C. Main, who has given a great part of his life to the study of this particular question. Much material has been gathered on this subject, but the time has come when it should be demonstrated whether or not the different theories will work.

The hon. member for Lisgar (Mr. Brown) stated that dams will not make rain. That statement may be correct but at the same time dams will prevent the actual rainfall from running off the land. Many mistakes have been made in the past. The practice has been to drain any pond that might be located on a farm in order to obtain more land. The result was the drying up of more land. The same thing was done in the case of lakes. There was a large lake in my area known as Whitewater lake. An attempt was made to drain this lake in order that the land which it covered might be cultivated. The result was that the surrounding district was made much drier that it had been in the past. The construction of roads has had a harmful effect. In the province of Manitoba alone there are 3,600 miles of highway with ditches on both sides. The result of the building of these ditches has been the running off of thousands of tons of water which could have been conserved. It is very necessary that streams should be damned up, as well as any small runways. This would prevent the usual spring runoff. This is an engineering problem but I believe much assistance could be given by men who have come through these difficult times. They know from their own experience just what should be done. I would point out that the Souris river runs right through the drought area of Manitoba and this river could be used for demonstrating the value of dams throughout drought area A, the worst district in the province.


Rehabilitation of Drought Areas

The hon. member for Lisgar pointed out that you must have rain before you can have trees. I would point out to him that trees have been planted and have continued to grow within these drought areas. During the last four years I have planted some fifteen hundred trees on my own farm and I believe at least ninety per cent of them have continued to grow. Our practice in the past in connection with trees was very bad. Many trees were cut down and in some cases where they could not be cut down fast enough, a fire was started. The result was that in addition to wasting wood which could have been used, we lost the benefit which would have been derived from the trees. Shelter belts are most necessary. In spite of what has been said by so many experts, I think we must turn to England and Russia for proof that the planting of trees has proved of tremendous value. In England 45,000,000 trees are planted each year and I think this is some indication that they are not doing it just for the fun of sticking trees in the ground. Such planting has a definite value in the wood produced besides preventing soil drifting to a certain extent. The Russian experiment in the planting of trees has proved a success. Demonstration plots which have been laid out prove that trees provide a greater conservation of moisture and bring about an increased rainfall. The rainfall in the northern part of Manitoba has been only slightly greater than that in the south, there being probably a difference of an inch of rain during the year. In the north they have had good crops but they have not had such crops in the south. We could have conserved that moisture in the south by trees or by cultural practices, and we should have had in the south, had we done so, as good a crop as they had in the north. Dean Shaw of the university of Saskatchewan is an expert who points to the value of cultural practices but overlooks the value which may accrue from the planting of trees and the building of dams. In the past we have misused the soil. Our cultural practices have been to get as much wheat in one year as possible, trying it again the next year, and continuing in that way. We have not had the summer fallow every second year, nor have we had to a sufficient degree strip farming. We have kept on getting as much out of the land as we could and have not replaced by means of fertilizer anything we have taken out, with the result that the land has been steadily getting poorer. It is necessary through these cultural practices to save if possible every ounce of moisture which comes to the land.

By these practices also we could stop the general runoff of water in the spring. These practices are of great value. But what happens when you call in an expert? Dean Shaw, for instance, seems in my opinion to be able to see cultural practices only. Call in experts in regard to trees and they can see only the trees, and the engineer believes that you have only to use the dam in order to conserve the water. I am glad to note that in the present program it is intended to use all these experts for what- they are worth, giving them an opportunity to demonstrate whether they can actually create the conditions which they think they can. The minister indicated today that grasses are to be used which will demonstrate that pastures can be created. If it is possible to get grasses sufficiently hardy to be used on the submarginal lands, then in the future we shall be able to have larger pastures, such as we ought to have had in the past, and we shall then be able to go into mixed farming in a way that we have not done in the past. If possible those lands which are known as the light lands should be taken out of cultivation. It is a most heartbreaking thing to see people moving into a district and going on a farm which has never in its existence yielded a proper return to anyone who owned it-to see newcomers going on such a farm, spending a few years on it only to leave and be replaced by someone else who will work his heart out trying to earn a living on submarginal land.

Crested wheat grass has, I think, undoubtedly proven that it is of tremendous value provided you can get it started. That is the real difficulty. 'You need a certain degree of moisture before you can get it started. I planted crested wheat grass and was unsuccessful owing to the fact that there was not sufficient moisture in that area. Where it can be started it is of considerable value and we should use it. We should also have larger pastures than we have had in the past.

The need for action is immediate because seasonal preparations are being made at the present time within that area. Certain farmers are moving out to other areas and if they knew what was coming some of them would remain while others would not. It is immediately necessary to demonstrate what can be done in order that these people may know precisely where they stand. I would urge that the farmers themselves should be consulted, and I am glad to note that that is contemplated in the plan with regard to the smaller areas. The plan would indicate that certain farmers who in the past have been

Rehabilitation oj Drought Areas

fairly successful will be given assistance to demonstrate to the rest of the community what can be done under these conditions. In connection with the plan itself, I very much fear the return of good crops. That may be a strange thing to say, but I fear it for the reason that if good crops return we shall never have a reclamation scheme and therefore we shall not be able to demonstrate, as we should have demonstrated in the past, that these dry periods recur from time to time. The hon. member for Lisgar (Mr. Brown) spoke of times in Manitoba long before I was bom and gave evidence to show that such periods have occurred before. We should bear in mind that they have occurred before and probably will occur again. That is a most important thing to keep in mind, because when we are having good crops we think that they will get better every year. I submit that we should not be caught napping again as we have been in the past. Future rains will blot out the memory of the dry periods, but such periods will come again and we must be prepared for them.

I should like the minister to bring his experts to the area I represent so that they may see the actual situation for themselves and understand it from firsthand knowledge. This is very necessary. It is all very well to visualize it 1,500 miles away, but it is different when you go there and see conditions as they are. Had they been there in 1925, 1926, 1927 or 1928 they would have thought that in that country we had the finest land in Canada. In times of adversity we must remember that formerly lands flourished and bloomed, and in times of plenty we should remember on the other hand that sand piles up and in some instances the winds do much damage; the fence posts entirely disappear and you have a condition that suggests the sand dunes of Africa. As I say, these conditions will occur again and every possible aid should be employed to meet the situation.

I should recommend the use of the Canadian Conservation Institute, which has started in Winnipeg and, I think, will spread to other parts of Canada. It is a very useful organization, gathering material and giving advice which will be helpful in the solution of the problem. I think also that the National Research Council should be used. No doubt it will be used for various purposes to overcome that difficulty. That council in the past has given inestimable advice with respect to various problems that confront this country and it can do so again. We must if possible avoid the practices that have prevailed in the

past of cutting down timber, mining the land instead of having the summer fallow, and so on. These things must be avoided in the future and we must start our reclamation program. This must be started at once lest greater harm be done than has so far taken place. This calls for action and I would point out that if something be not done now the opportunity will be lost as far as reclamation is concerned, because the country will come back and demonstrate its ability to produce crops. If that demonstration takes place immediately all thought of reclamation will be forgotten and those who follow us will go down as we have done and discover once more that Joseph was right. Dry periods necessarily follow periods of plenty.

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April 8, 1935


What about "sityation"?

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April 8, 1935


Oh, oh.

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March 28, 1935


It has been entirely satisfactory to those people whom I represent.

Subtopic:   THE BUDGET
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March 28, 1935


I think if you went to the country on the radio policy of this government you certainly would be defeated; if you

do not think so get your leader to go to the country on that issue. I defy him to take that step.

In addition the live stock industry of this country has derived benefits due to the fact that we have a preference in the British market. There are great possibilities also in regard to the United States trade agreement which may or may not be consummated; in any event we are striving to carry it through. The other day I was surprised to hear hon. gentlemen opposite trying to disparage the work of this government in connection with trade agreements. We have negotiated nine new trade agreements during the life of this government, and we have cancelled none. It may be said that we have cancelled two, but those have been renewed, so the policy of this government has been most successful in that connection.

Finally I should like to say a word about the balance of trade. We now have a favourable balance of S134,000,000 as compared with an adverse balance of $90,000,000 in 1929. That has the effect of allowing this country to borrow more than, we could otherwise borrow. It also has the effect of allowing us to borrow at the rate of two per cent in some instances, something never done before in Canada.

I should like also, if I had time, to deal with certain other matters concerning the present policy of the government, and in particular I should like to refer for a moment to that accusation which is made so often, that the reform policy of the Prime Minister indicates an about turn on his part. That is contrary to the truth. Those who say the reform policy of the Prime Minister is an about face have not read the first speech he made in the House of Commons on November 20, 1911. I should like to quote from the Toronto Globe of February 15, 1935; Mr. Anderson, editor of the Globe, refers to an interview he had with Mr. Bennett twenty-one years ago. These were Mr. Bennett's words at that time:

Let me tell you that if ever this yoimg country should run into a period of serious and prolonged depresion-such a period of hard times and unemployment as has been known to other countries in world history-those then at the helm will have to pay in costly measure for the prodigality of to-day. They will have to atone for the exploitation of the public at the hands of self-centred and predatory interests by bitter doses of taxation, by radical enactments, by revision and reform of the whole capitalistic system-or face something of far sterner significance and more devastating consequences.

The Budget-Mr. Anderson (Halton)

This is the comment of Mr. Anderson:

These words were spoken twenty-one years ago. The comparatively young member for Calgary, serving his first term in the House of Commons, was pacing his room in the old, now gone, building on Parliament hill. He spoke to the writer-spoke urgently and emphatically-of what was taking place.

This indicates that as long ago as that the change was taking place. I should like to take time also to read a portion of the speech delivered by Mr. R. B. Bennett in the House of Commons on November 20, 1911:

In my judgment, in this complex civilization of ours, the great struggle of the future will be between human rights and property interests; and it is the duty and function of government to provide that there shall be no undue regard for the latter that limits or lessens the other.... If there be certain immunities and rights and privileges which flow to men who constitute themselves into corporations, it follows that the parliament or legislature that created them, that gave them birth and existence, has the power to impose upon them limitation commensurate w-ith the

demands and necessities of the people_____ I

submit that in this country we should at the earliest possible moment give our best attention to the consideration of some measure that will provide a tribunal that will limit the issue of securities by corporations, and will protect the public by enacting some measure by which they can know the real value of those securities.

Later on the same gentleman complained in this country and in this house against the lobbying by the rich people that took place on Parliament hill. At another time he indicated that he thought levies should be made on the insurance companies of Canada, and during the Beauharnois debate he indicated that he snapped his fingers at the financial interests of this country. The Prime Minister has always been a reformer and a realist; the reforms he is bringing forward at the present time indicate that he has had these matters under consideration for a very long time. The reform program deals with minimum wages and maximum working hours; child labour and sweatshop methods; unemployment, health and accident insurance; income tax; an economic council; old age pensions and farm loans.

Subtopic:   THE BUDGET
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