Mr. A. B. Weselak (Springfield):
Mr. Speaker, this debate is now in its tenth day and I can sympathize with the hon. member for New Westminster (Mr. Hahn) when he wonders who is right and who is telling the complete truth. I can also sympathize with the hon. member for Selkirk (Mr. Bryce), who spoke in this debate and placed the problems of his constituents before the house. Our two constituencies in the last two or three years have suffered comparable crop losses. Our problems are, I think, far more serious and far more difficult of solution than others which have been placed before the house.
The opposition has repeatedly stated before this house that there was unanimous agreement among the farm organizations and farm leaders as to how this money should be made
available to the farmers. I think that, in order to bring this debate into its proper perspective, the events leading up to the meeting with the federal cabinet in October should be reviewed, because the decision of the government concerning cash advances was made as a result of a delegation which came to Ottawa to present the problems of the western farmer to the federal cabinet.
When I think of this problem I recall a meeting that was held in Beausejour in December and was attended by the hon. member for Dauphin (Mr. Zaplitny) and the hon. member for Brandon-Souris (Mr. Dins-dale). At this particular meeting Mr. James Patterson, president of the Manitoba farmers' union, spoke at length on the matter of cash advances. I made rather comprehensive notes at that meeting and have since reviewed them. Mr. Patterson stated that the farm leaders were far from unanimous when they came to Ottawa to meet the federal cabinet. He stated they were far from unanimous when they discussed the matter at the Saskatoon conference.
Concerning the Saskatoon conference a special dispatch appears in the Winnipeg Free Press of September 28 which reported what transpired at the meeting. The following is reported:
Bank loans up to $1,000 based on grain to be delivered to elevators and guaranteed against loss by the federal government was suggested by President J. H. Wesson of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool as the means to alleviate the emergency financial problem of western farmers. He said the federal government should be asked to pass an act similar to that of 1951 which provided emergency financial assistance to farmers in difficulties. That year the crop was snowed under and farmers could not harvest.
Mr. Wesson said the Wheat Pool did not agree with the suggestion of interest-free loans to farmers, but the interest should not be exorbitant. The banks would grant some loans now, but were "choosey" of their debtors and the five per cent interest was too high. He thought the government should pass the legislation and there should be an arrangement between the Bank of Canada and the chartered banks whereby the loans to farmers be on a two or 2J per cent interest basis. The loans could be made on the basis of the grain the farmer would probably deliver and entered in his quota book. The federal government should take the loss, if any.
The following day a further dispatch appeared which reads as follows, and I quote from the Winnipeg Free Press of September 29:
The farm conference here Wednesday urged the federal government to make immediate provision for advances to farmers on grain they had in store, up to the value of half the normal delivery expected, or four bushels per cultivated acre. These should be repaid on the basis of one-half the value of each delivery made by the farmer.
The two-day conference was attended by governmental officials and representatives of farm, municipal and business groups from the three
prairie provinces. It was called by the Interprovincial Farm Union council to discuss grain marketing and possible financial assistance to farmers.
The resolution as originally presented contained a reference to not more than three per cent interest be charged on the advances to farmers. Jake Schulz, president of the Manitoba farmers' union, tried to amend the resolution by striking out the reference to interest and inserting a clause that the advances to farmers be interest-free.
Incidentally, I would state that was the farm union's original proposal and they have since stuck to it.
Others disagreed with the substituted clause and all reference to interest was deleted in the final draft. It was generally agreed the resolution should be broad so the federal government would understand the conference favoured the principle of advance and the method was under the government's jurisdiction.
Warren Burgess, who I understand is also an ex-C.C.F. member of the Saskatchewan legislature, had this to say:
. . . interest-free loans would give some big
farmers a chance to make money. Under the system as proposed by Mr. Schulz, a farmer not in difficulties, could apply for interest-free loans and then put the money advanced into government bonds.
For this reason J. E. Brownlee, president of the United Grain Growers, suggested there be a flat maximum for these loans or advances. Only those in need of the emergency assistance should get it. J. H. Wesson, president of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, had made the same suggestion Tuesday when he proposed re-enactment of the 1951 act which allowed loans up to $1,000.
Mr. Brownlee said time was the essence. The proposal should be presented at the federal-provincial conference next week.
A report appeared in the Winnipeg Tribune on the same date and the following observation was made:
It was generally agreed the resolution should be broad so the federal government would understand the conference was in favour of the principle of advances but wanted to leave the method up to the government.
At the meeting in Beausejour to which I previously referred, Mr. Patterson stated that when the delegation came to Ottawa they expected only to meet the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Gardiner) and the Minister of Trade and Commerce (Mr. Howe) but they were pleased when along with the two ministers they met the Prime Minister (Mr. St. Laurent) and the other senior ministers of the cabinet and received a very sympathetic hearing.
He stated the only thing the delegation could agree on was that cash was needed. When asked by the Prime Minister how much, they simply were unable to tell him. When it was asked how the money was to be made available to them they could not tell the Prime Minister, either.
The truth of this statement is borne out in the Canadian Federation of Agriculture News
and Information Bulletin of September-Octeber 1955 which in referring to the brief presented to the cabinet states:
The brief urged the government of Canada to "make immediate provision for advances to farmers on grain in store on the farm, and further that these advances should be up to one half the value of each delivery (of grain) made by the farmer".
The brief did not recommend any one way in which they thought these advances could best be made. Bank loans, wheat board advances, a special credit agency, and a system of advances through rural municipalities have been some of the alternative methods suggested.
It was recommended also that regular bank interest rates were higher than should be charged on such advances, and that the interest rate "if any", should be kept to a minimum.
This is also borne out in the press report of a speech made by the Minister of Agriculture for Manitoba in addressing the Union of Manitoba municipalities as reported in the Winnipeg Free Press of November 24, 1955:
Some idea of the confusion which existed at Ottawa when representatives of the three prairie governments and prairie farm groups met Prime Minister St. Laurent and some members of his government to discuss the western wheat crisis was given to the Union of Manitoba Municipalities by Hon. R. D. Robertson, minister of agriculture, Wednesday.
Mr. Robertson said when the prime minister asked him for suggestions, he had to admit they did not have one definite suggestion to make. As a result the representatives of 15 groups presented their personal views on the matter and most of them were different.
Mr. Robertson said he had attended a meeting in Saskatoon before the Ottawa meeting, but many of the resolutions could not be accepted by the representatives of the governments or other groups because they had received no instructions on them.
Topic: PROVISION FOR GUARANTEE OF BANK LOANS TO PRODUCERS IN PRAIRIE PROVINCES, ETC.