William John BLAIR

BLAIR, William John, B.A. Sc.

Personal Data

Battle River (Alberta)
Birth Date
October 13, 1875
Deceased Date
April 24, 1943
engineer, farmer, teacher

Parliamentary Career

December 17, 1917 - October 4, 1921
  Battle River (Alberta)

Most Recent Speeches (Page 1 of 2)

March 30, 1921

1. How many telegrams, letters, petitions and

resolutions did the Government receive from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, between August 1, 1919, and January 1, 1920, (a)

Approving of the Canada Wheat Board; (b) Disapproving of the Canada Wheat Board?

2. How many telegrams, letters, petitions and

resolutions did the Government receive from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta between August 1, 1920, and January 1, 1921, (a)

Approving of the Canada Wheat Board? (b) Disapproving of the Canada Wheat Board?

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March 1, 1921

Mr. WILLIAM JOHN BLAIR (Battle River) :

Mr. Speaker, I do not know that it is necessary for me to take up the time of the House in further congratulating the Prime Minister (Mr. Meighen) on his elevation to that high office. I have already done that personally. I would, however, like to add my congratulations to the mover and the seconder of the Address on the able manner in which they performed their duty.

My intention in taking part in this debate is to touch upon two matters, both of which

are of political importance to Western Canada. The first to which I wish to refer is the matter of bringing on a general election at this time. In the year 1911 an election was sprung upon us just as the census figures were being completed, and for six years, from 1911 to 1917, the province from which I come was represented in this House by seven members instead of twelve, and a similar condition would no doubt arise again if an election were held before redistribution took place. The mover of the amendment (Mr. Mackenzie King) has been recently through the West, and I think he will agree with me when I say that, as leader of his party, he has very little to hope for from the West. To bring on an election at this time would be taking an unfair advantage of particularly the four western provinces. Of recent months, I have been through my constituency a number of times, and I must admit there has been a demand for an election, but only from those who were opposed to this Government in the first place, and particularly from those who were opposed to this Government's war policy. I have not heard of a demand for an election from the Liberals who supported me and who were many; I have not heard of it from the Conservatives who supported me, and there were many of them too. The fact of the matter is that the people in the province of Alberta are not wasting very much time in thinking about party politics; they are attending to their business and going ahead as best they may. .

The question which I want to deal with particularly and which seems to me of greater importance to the three Prairie Provinces than anything that has as yet been discussed in this House, is the matter of handling the farmer's grain. I need not state that agriculture is now and probably always will be the great industry of those three provinces, and grain growing is the most important branch of agriculture. At the outset I want to say that I agree with the remarks and the suggestions made by the hon. member for Macdonald (Mr. Henders) in the latter part of the speech which he made in this House the other day. Everything he said in connection with that subject is the truth, but I want to remind the hon. member that he did not, by any means, tell the whole truth. Indeed, I do not know that there is in this House a member who is fully and well-enough informed upon the subject of handling grain and the disabilities under which the farmers operate to be capable of telling

the whole story. We get small threads of it here and there; we hear rumours, many of which are no doubt true; but they have not been established, and they have not been referred to particularly in this House. Of course, any disability under which the farmer suffers pertains somewhat also to the consumer; but, as is most other lines, the man who is at the primary point of production is the first man to suffer from those injustices. I regret many of those who represent constituencies in the eastern pro-inces are not more fully acquainted with the methods by which grain is handled in Western Canada.

I would like to speak particularly on how completely the farmer is at the mercy of the grain dealer. When you consider that his grain is threshed and harvested and marketed, sometimes as far east as Fort William, in the course of a very few weeks, you can see that a good deal of the work that is done cannot be closely supervised, and the first opportunity the grain dealer has to " get " the farmer is the minute he drives his wagon load of wheat upon the scales of the country elevator. These scales are owned and controlled by the grain dealer, and are operated by one of his employees. A few days before I left my home, my nearest neighbour drove off the scales of a well-known elevator company in our town to the scales of another elevator company, and found there was a difference of eight bushels between the time he left the one company and got to the other. Now that eight-bushel loss means that the farmer was losing from ten to twenty per cent of his wheat, and at this point there will probably ,be marketed this year $1,500,000 of grain. So if all the companies are as dishonest as the one to which I refer attempted to be, there will be a loss of anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 for the farmers in that way alone, at that one point; and that is only one of thirty-five shipping points in the constituency I represent.

At six o'clock the House took recess.

After Recess.

The House resumed at eight o'clock.

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March 1, 1921

Mr. BLAIR (resuming):

When the

House rose at six o'clock I was referring to the methods of some of the grain companies that are operating at country points in the Prairie Provinces. I had mentioned the fact that it had been reported to me that a farmer had driven his load of grain

from one elevator to another and found in doing so that it had increased some eight bushels in weight. That meant probably from 10 to 20 per cent of the value of the whole load of grain, and at the point where I live and market my grain it would mean from $100,000 to $300,000 per year that would be taken out of the farmers of that immediate district. There are in the riding in which I represent some 35 shipping points on the different lines of railway; so that it will be seen that if the Government proposes to do anything towards investigating this condition, the place at which to begin is the beginning, at the country elevators.

It would seem to me that a method could be easily devised to take the weighing away from the elevator companies and place the handling of it under the control and direction of Government officials. In addition to the weighing of the grain at the country elevators, the operator of the local elevator is also charged with the grading of grain under certain conditions, and this is where the small farmer particularly is squeezed. The small farmer who has less than a car-load of grain to ship drives up to the country elevator and is at the mercy of the operator, not only as regards the weighing of the grain, but so far as the grading as well is concerned. Grain sold in this way is refered to as street wheat, and as stated by the hon. member for Swift Current (Mr. Argue), there is no reason why there should be much difference between street wheat and track wheat offered on the market at Fort William. But at one point on one of the lines of railway in my riding there was a difference of as much as 47 cents a bushel between the street wheat and track wheat on one particular day this fall, and at a point within 35 miles of this very place on another line of railway some of the same companies were operating and paying for street wheat only about 20 or 22 cents less than track wheat. There was a combine undoubtedly amongst the elevators operating at the first point-there can he no question in the world about that-and that combine existed for the purpose of killing competitive buying. At the other point the ordinary methods of competitive buying were practised, and the farmers there were coming from greater distances, delivering their wheat and getting a square deal.

There is another phase of the question to which I want to refer, and that is the position in which the operator of the country elevator finds himself. He is an em-

ployee of these large companies, some of them very large indeed, and he is engaged on a salary and put under heavy bonds. He is charged with the responsibility of taking in the grain, weighing it out and grading it, and in many instances paying for it. If there is a bank, payment is made by 'cheque, and if there is not he has to pay in currency. He loads his wheat or other grain into the cars; it is delivered at Fort William and weighed from the cars into the terminal elevators. It is never made known to him during the whole operating season how the cars weigh out. They may be short or over, but the facts are never made known to him, and frequently at the end of the year, after everything is closed up, a representative of the elevator company comes along and without giving particulars, without telling him how these things happened, informs him that he is short, two, or three, or five hundred bushels, as the case may be, and the operator is ordered to make good the shortage. You can see the temptation that is placed in the way of an operator of a country elevator. If he desires to be honest he has the knowledge that this club may be continuously swung over his head. _

I might remind the House that during past sessions we have heard about screenings or dockage, and we got some rather interesting information a session or two ago before a special committee of this House known as the Cost of Living Committee. I would like to explain that if these screenings are under three per cent at Fort William they become the absolute property of the terminal elevator. If they are over three per cent they become the property of the farmer. Now the farmer pays for the threshing of the wheal; that he delivers to the country elevator and he pays there a cent and three quarters a bushel for handling it. He also pays the elevator a commission and he pays the freight. Yet at Fort William, when the screenings are three per cent or under the terminal elevator gobbles the whole thing without having paid one cent in the matter of production, transportation or anything else.

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March 1, 1921


It is perfectly legal, as

I understand, for the terminal elevator to take the three per cent.

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March 1, 1921


I do not know that that

matters. The point is that we want the whole thing investigated in order to bring out the facts. Now as to the matter of overages. That has been fully dealt with by the member for Macdonald (Mr. Hen-ders), and I do not propose to say much upon the subject. I have heard it argued that the terminal elevator should get the overages because it must pay for the shortages. Now I do not know of any more convincing way to answer that argument than to say that such a contention amounts to this: Because the terminal

elevators pay for what they are caught stealing they should be allowed to get away with what they are not detected in stealing.

A great deal has been sa'id with respect to the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. Properly and honestly conducted, a grain exchange cannot be objected to. It is a legitimate place for buyers and for sellers, just as in the case of other commodities. But the Winnipeg Grain Exchange has become practically the whole channel through which our western wheat reaches the eastern miller and the buyer overseas. One rule that I believe exists with the Winnipeg Grain Exchange is objectionable. The member for Macdonald explained how the prices are fixed at country places. These prices are sent out by the North West Grain Dealers' Association each day, after having been fixed by an officer of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, and the rule to which I refer declares that any member of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange who is found paying a higher price than that authorized by its officer is doomed to expulsion from the organization.

I have had personal experience in this matter. On one occasion I sold three carloads of oats to a member of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. He signed a contract on a certain date and I had the privilege of shipping these oats later on. When I was ready to ship the oats the price had

dropped. They were loaded through the elevator of a well-known grain company and immediately these oats were shipped they wrote and asked me why I had not sold my oats to them. I replied that I had been able to get a higher price than they were willing to pay me.

I immediately got a request for all papers and documents in connection with this transaction, but I refused to comply with the request and, so far as I know, the matter was dropped. But the point I want to make is that if these people are able to penalize the man who goes out into the open competitive market and buys from the farmer at a higher price than the price authorized at Winnipeg, they will do so if they can find a way.

I now want to say a word or two with reference to the Wheat Board. Like every other public institution that Board at one stage of its existence was extremely unpopular, and at another stage it became extremely popular. I am quite sure that if I had been in the hands of fifteen committee men in my riding in the year 1919 they would have enforced my resignation from this House. I am just as sure that if my resignation had then taken place, my successor would also have been re-called last fall because the Wheat Board was not re-established. The fact of the matter is that the unpopularity of the Wheat Board was the result of the persistent and systematic agitation carried out by men who wanted to knock this Government by any means they could employ for the purpose. These men went about the country and told the' people that the participation .certificates or the "anticipation" certificates were next to valueless, and I know one man in my own neighbourhood who, as a result of Hie agitation, took his certificates home and threw them into the stove. Other men sold them in great numbers for a price not greater than twenty-one cents a bushel. Eventually these certificates were redeemed by the Wheat Board at forty-eight cents a bushel. These agitators-and some of them were paid agitators-who went through the country working up this agitation for the sole purpose of knocking the present Government, through the Wheat Board, caused a loss to the farmers which aggregated hundreds and thousands and perhaps millions of dollars. They told the farmers that this Government was their enemy, but they awakened one day to find out that their real enemy was to be found right in their own organization. The Wheat Board rendered efficient and valuable service to the farmers of Western Canada, and I have

here a testimonial which I think ought to bear some weight with the members of this House. This testimonial was given by a member of the Wheat Board, it was given by the man who is the President of the United Farmers of Alberta, Mr. H. W. Wood; it was given at a public meeting attended by some two thousand farmers and the report of the proceedings appeared in a paper which is not always friendly to the present Government, the Edmonton Bulletin. This is a verbatim report from the Edmonton Morning Bulletin:

The Canadian Wheat Board during its existence saved the Canadian farmer 50 millions of dollars and I am certain that if it continues to sell their grain along the same lines as before its abolition by the Government that it would save the farmers of this country several millions more.

The Wheat Board in the past has rendered efficient service and there is no reason why it cannot be continued along efficient operative lines providing you get the right kind of men on the Board. But let me tell you this, just as soon as you get politics and inefficiency mixed up with it then give me the open market.

Now, I want hon. members to note the significance of Mr. Woods' statement. He stated that in handling the wheat crop alone $50,000,000 was saved to the farmers of Western Canada in one year. If the same efficie'ncy and the same good results had been secured from handling all the other grain, that is, the oats, flax, barley and rye, another $50,000,000 would have been saved; that would he $100,000,000, according to the testimony of Mr. H. W. Wood, who is not politically a friend of this Government. I want to emphasize that the ordinary charges made by the Wheat Board for commission, handling, freight, storage and insurance were not less than those under ordinary conditions. So it follows that, if the statement is correct, the farmers of Western Canada this year might have been saved an equal amount, and that in other years they were deprived of this amount of money by the grain dealers.

I think it would be well for the Government to investigate the means of marketing the Western grain when the saving may be so great as $100,000,000 a year. We have got into the habit of thinking in big figures, but let us consider for one minute what $100,000,000 would do. It would pay almost the interest on the national debt; it would build 400,000 miles of rural telephone line-that is worth considering-it would build 2,000 miles of railway; it would put under cultivation 10,000,000 acres of raw prairie land; it is more money than has already been loaned by the Soldiers Settlement Board and it

would pay the duty on all the agricultural implements imported into the Dominion in a period of sixty years.

I have referred to the spread between the street and track wheat and other grain. I have talked to some of those who are of the type I referred to at the beginning of my remarks, and who want an election. They will say that there was not much spread at points on the Canadian Pacific Railway-and they are not altogether wrong in saying so-but that generally speaking the spread was greater on the Grand Trunk Pacific and at Canadian Northern points. But I have the word of the president of one of the largest grain firms in Winnipeg to the effect that both the Canadian Pacific and the Canadian National handled the western grain this last year better than it had ever been handled before, considering the volume of wheat that was going out. And again I am afraid that there is a little touch of politics in this criticism. It is a curious thing that the men who are to-day damning the Canadian National system are the' men who damned the Canadian Pacific for forty years. They have at last come to the conclusion that the Canadian Pacific Railway is a pretty good institution and that the Canadian National is all wrong.

I want to urge most strongly on the Government that they investigate every phase of the marketing of wheat and other grains from the time the farmer drives his wagon on the scales at the country elevator point to the time the grain reaches Liverpool or until it is handed into the mills in Eastern Canada. I have heard more complaint about the way our grain has been handled this last year, and especially since the farmers got acquainted with the efficiency of the Wheat Board, than I have heard concerning any other phase of the economic life of Western Canada, and I feel sure that if the Government conducts a thorough investigation to find out where the abuses are, and the remedy for those abuses, it will do a greater service to the grain growers of Western Canada than any other action that this Government has taken or can take or that any Government in the past has taken. Certainly the Government will render a greater service to the farmers of these three provinces than anything that has been suggested by our friends in either Opposition party. I hope that such an investigation as was proposed by the hon. member for Macdonald (Mr. Henders) will be proceeded with and that it will have concluded its labours in time to have the

results formulated before the next season's crop is harvested and ready for the market.

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