Mr. A. B. Weselak (Springfield):
Mr. Speaker, this being the first occasion on which I rise to address the house since becoming a member, I would like to follow the custom of the house by congratulating you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and also Mr. Speaker. 1 must say that I have listened attentively to your rulings and have found them to be fair and just, and therefore I am pleased on this occasion to associate myself with other hon. members in this respect.
This afternoon, I listened with considerable interest to the speech made by the hon. member for Assiniboia (Mr. Argue). For forty minutes I heard a tirade such as I have never heard before. Throughout his speech the hon. member criticized the actions and policies of the government; forecast a depression, stated that we had lost all our markets, and that blue ruin was prevalent in the west. While it must be admitted that there is no room for overoptimism, neither is there licence for presenting a dismal and frightening picture to the public, particularly to those who are not normally familiar with the facts.
The hon. member for Assiniboia belittled every effort made by the government to move western surpluses, ignoring the fact that unusually large crops have produced record surpluses, while at the same time farmers in western Canada have marketed greater quantities of grain than ever before, and export sales have reached new peaks. His speech, while critical, certainly was not constructive, and contributed nothing toward a solution of the farmers' problems. When asked how he proposed financing a substantial gift of grain to southeast Asia his only reply was that we should tax corporations or, in the alternative, reduce defence expenditure by $500 million.
While I hold no brief for corporations, there is a limit to which taxes can be levied on corporations. Capital investment is essential to the development of this country and its progress, and eventually a saturation point is reached when the tax has the adverse effect of restricting investment of such capital. Offhand I am not in a position to say whether this point has been reached, but I do not believe the reply given was seriously considered by the hon. member before it was made. His alternative, namely to reduce our defence expenditure, also suggests a certain measure of lightness, and no doubt would be welcomed by any potential enemies of this country.
(Mr. Cameron (Nanaimo).]
Reverting to my remarks regarding wheat, I wish to go on record as being in support of our wheat board system of marketing. I feel that the government, through the wheat board, has done a tremendous job in disposing of the unusually large crops which have produced record surpluses.
During the debate yesterday, the hon. member for Inverness-Richmond (Mr. Mac-Eachen) pointed out that the unemployment figures today should be viewed bearing in mind the labour force and the total number presently employed. He pointed out that unless these factors were taken into consideration the unemployment figures were not being placed in their proper perspective.
As regards our wheat surplus, consideration should also be given to the fact that whereas our normal wheat crop is 325 million bushels per year, in the past three years the prairie production of wheat has reached anything from 529 to 664 million bushels. A total of 1,855 million bushels of wheat have been harvested in the past three years, compared with an average pre-war harvest of approximately 936 million bushels over a similar period, and which means in effect that the production has been practically doubled.
Our normal exports would have been adequate to absorb the pre-war production, but they have not been sufficient to keep pace with the production for the past three years. The record shows that in 1950 producer marketings were 367,845,000 bushels which was high for the period 1944 to 1950. In 1951 our producer marketings were 455,341,000 bushels. In 1952 our producer marketings were 535,942,000 bushels, and in the period August 1 to March 3 inclusive our 1953 marketings were 263,200,000 bushels for a period of seven months.
An analysis of these figures indicates that had we been producing average crops then we would not have had sufficient grain to fill the markets which we have had in the past three years. An examination of any of the records of the wheat board and board of grain commissioners will indicate that our exports exceeded 500 million bushels last year and our consumption last year, including grain for milling purposes, exceeded a total of 200 million bushels making a total in excess of 700 million bushels disposed of in the past year.
The wheat board is faced with a serious problem, but I have every confidence that if markets are to be obtained every effort will be made by the government to obtain these markets. We must admit that the marketing of these huge stocks of grain presently on hand presents a serious problem, and while
it is anticipated that the world demand for wheat will eventually increase so as to take care of the situation, there remains the immediate problem of disposing of the wheat now at hand.
In presenting his budget the Minister of Finance (Mr. Abbott) made the welcome announcement that there would be no tariff increases. Our economy is dependent upon exports and any steps taken by the government to curb international trade is bound to have an adverse effect upon the export of our produce. The minister admitted that considerable pressure was being put on the government for tariff protection in various industries, and he is to be commended upon the stand he has taken in this regard. We therefore welcome the minister's announcement to the effect that there will be no tariff increases, and we agree with his opinion that tariff increases are not in the best interests of Canada.
In his budget speech the minister referred to the fact that there had been a return to normal competitive conditions in world markets, and he pointed out that any retrograde step towards protectionism at this time would jeopardize any prospects for real progress in this country.
On this occasion I also wish to commend the minister on the consideration given by him to the municipalities in the matter of exemption from sales tax of road machinery and fire-fighting equipment purchased for their own use. The purchase of such equipment is usually a substantial item in any municipal budget, and the saving through this exemption will be of assistance to the municipalities who are hard pressed to find the required moneys to provide essential services in their communities.
In the face of the rigidity of our expenditures caused by commitments for social security, health measures and defence, there was little room for tax reduction. During the war public works were curtailed, and therefore we are faced with a backlog of required public works which also require attention and money for their completion.
The opposition decry the fact that no substantial tax reductions were made, yet a reading of Hansard during consideration of the estimates, particularly those with reference to the Public Works Department, discloses that the demands for increased public works for public buildings and other public structures emanated from the opposition benches.
Resolutions have appeared on the order paper in the names of hon. members of the opposition during the course of the session
The Budget-Mr. Weselak requesting further extension of expenditures in the field of health and social security. Had the government acceded to all these requests I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that the budget brought down last Tuesday would have reflected in no -uncertain way the extent of such commitments which would have had to be passed on to the people of Canada in substantially increased taxation.
There is, however, one aspect of the budget which has caused me considerable concern and that is the reduction in net farm income. The white paper tabled before the presentation of the budget shows that net farm income had declined by almost 14 per cent in 1953 from the level of 1952. It explains that more than half of this decline can be attributed to a reduction in the volume of agricultural products produced and a small portion perhaps to the four per cent reduction in the farm labour force. I realize that with the rehabilitation of Europe markets for our products are not as readily available as they were in the war and immediate postwar years, and that agriculture as well as industry must face the fact that we are today faced with competitive markets and must therefore regulate our production costs accordingly.
The wholesale price index published in the budget papers appended to Hansard of April 6, 1954, discloses on page 3781 that the wholesale price index of fully and chiefly manufactured goods, which are mainly the goods required by farmers, rose from 211 in 1950 to 227-8 in January, 1954, while wholesale prices of Canadian farm products dropped from 236-7 in 1950 to 209-4 in January, 1954. It is therefore obvious that the farmer's cost of production has risen sharply in the past three years while his return has substantially dropped in the same period. The situation is becoming serious and on this occasion I would ask the government to give serious consideration either to referring this matter to the standing committee on agriculture or to setting up a body which could be a committee of this house perhaps to study the matter of this increasing spread in order to determine what remedies, if any, are available to solve this growing problem.
This being my first address in this house, I should like to take this opportunity to commend this government and particularly the Minister of National Health and Welfare (Mr. Martin) for the progress which has been made in the field of national health. For the past four years I have been closely associated with one of the phases of the health program, namely the construction and equipping of rural hospitals. In my own constituency of
4060 HOUSE OF
The Budget-Mr. Weselak Springfield, which I have the honour to represent and of which I am justifiably proud- the reasons for my pride in my constituency I will reserve for a later occasion-prior to the inauguration of the health plan we had no hospital within its confines except one located at Pine Falls at the northern end of its more populated area. As a result of the program we now have in Springfield a modern, well-equipped, 25-bed hospital at Beausejour and a well-equipped modern 10-bed nursing unit in Whitemouth. I might say in passing that the hospital in Beausejour has operated since 1949 without a deficit, despite the fact that per diem charges are far lower than those in city hospitals and that the services certainly are comparable. At the outset there was certain resistance to the plan to establish units in the area. However, the vote was favourable and, through the co-operation of the province and municipalities affected, these units became a reality.
There is one aspect of this particular scheme that deserves particular comment, namely the policy of putting the responsibility for construction and operation of these hospitals at the local level. My experience has been that while local boards flounder a bit in their inexperience, nevertheless the close financial limits within which they have to operate makes it necessary for them to get a dollar's value for each and every dollar which is available to them. In addition, these local boards contribute their time voluntarily and, I can assure you, unstintingly. The policy to which I have referred also has the effect of fostering a local pride in these units which is amply evidenced by the organization of local guilds which do a tremendous job towards providing the amenities which a budget-conscious board must overlook in an effort to provide the technical equipment and aids which are usually desired. The value of such services to a rural community can be assessed only by those who now have them but previously were without them. The saving in life, the saving in money and the conveniences which have been made available by these hospitals certainly have made well worth while the effort put into them by the various levels of government and by local boards.
In closing may I say that I believe we must all realize that we are in a period of transition from a wartime to a peacetime economy and that certain dislocations in our national economy are unavoidable. I am confident that given good leadership,-which, in my opinion, we have-the people of Canada will weather the adversities we now experience and that, despite the predictions of ruin, the future growth and wealth of Canada will well outstrip the record of the past.
Topic: THE BUDGET
Subtopic: ANNUAL FINANCIAL STATEMENT OF THE MINISTER OF FINANCE