Hon. W. R. MOTHERWELL (Melville):
Mr. Speaker, I have been waiting during the last day or two in the hope of speaking to the other bills which will be presented by the Minister of Trade and Commerce (Mr. Euler). But this afternoon I thought I would take advantage of the opportunity to offer some remarks on Bill No. 63, also introduced by that minister. This is the bill which, when it reached the prairies on March 27, set them on fire even though the plains were still covered with the winter snow. That fire has been smouldering round there ever since. There must have been some cause for this.
I may say at the outset that I approve entirely of all the bills presented by the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Gardiner), although that does not mean that I concur in all the details; some of them might possibly
have been improved upon. But the minister is to be congratulated upon presenting to this house such a remarkable chain of useful cooperative bills, seven or eight in number. I think he deserves the commendation of this house. I wish I could say as much for Bill No. 63.
Before we can deal properly with that amending bill I think we should take a little retrospect and spend a short time with the original bill, which was passed by the previous government in 1935. Prior to that, again, and for the past twenty years, the farmers of the west had been longing and looking, praying and hoping for a grain board bill somewhat similar to the one we had in 1919-20. One thing and another, into which I need not go now, interfered with it. Finally, in 1935, the previous government brought down a bill which was strongly pressed for by the Canadian Cooperative Wheat Producers Limited- another name for the combined pools. The then government consented, at the request of the present Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King), to submit this bill to a special committee consisting of nine members representing all parties in the house. That was a very fair attitude to take. It was the object of that committee to arrive if possible at 9ome conclusion in which all parties in the house would concur. Everybody knew that an election was coming on, and many of us did not want that to be an issue; if it were made an issue it would tend to spoil the working out of the bill. Anyway, the house, after debating the matter quite fully, decided on the character of the bill, as it appeared in reprinted form after going through this special committee, without one dissenting voice or one amendment as it went through second and third readings of the commons.
That bill provided for a very important committee called the advisory committee. This committee was appointed and was looked upon as an important, integral portion of this legislation. When the new government came into power they changed, I believe quite rightly, the personnel of the wheat board, because there were a few points on which policies were quite different, and in my opinion it was right to give expression to the viewpoint of the new government by having a new board. But it did not follow, I think, that the advisory committee should have been dispensed with. Possibly while the government had their hand in, they felt like swinging the axe a little bit, and they summarily dismissed all the advisory committee-which I think was a profound mistake. From that day to this the government, in my estimation,
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has been on the wrong track in not taking the advice of an advisory committee of seven, composed, as to four of them, of representatives of the producers. I did not make any particular protest about this at the time. Everybody has his own work to attend to; maybe the government had their own reason for doing this, and I thought possibly they would appoint a new advisory committee later, but that has not been done yet.
Let me refer briefly to some of the debates, and also to the original bill with respect to this matter, because it is a very important feature of the old bill.
In Hansard of 1935, page 4272, will be found the remarks of the then prime minister as the bill was going through its last stage. They are very brief: Mr. Bennett said:
Then the board is being assisted by an advisory committee. It was suggested by one of the witnesses who had been and still is associated with the pool, that there should be some compensation paid to the producers at least, as well as to others who came to Winnipeg or elsewhere for the purpose of giving their advice to the board. So it will be observed that this advisory board, of whom four out of seven shall be producers, shall be paid their transportation and living expenses and a per diem allowance of $10 while they are away from home. That was to ensure continuity of interest. But it goes further: it provides that the Minister of Trade and Commerce may ask them at any time to give their advice, to meet together. Further, this advisory board shall send a copy of its minutes to the minister in order that he may know what has transpired.
This was, then, not to be a temporary committee but a permanent part of a permanent board. There was in 1935 no crisis or emergency except one which had become quite simple, namely the carryover. I can remember quite distinctly that when Mr. McFarland was justifying his course it was believed by him that it would be a picnic to deal with that accumulation, because carryovers were disappearing all over the world. It was a comparatively easy matter to dispose of the two hundred million odd of the carryover in view of the market conditions that prevailed at that time. The board was meant to be a permanent one; there was no emergency about it. It seems to me that we are making a great mistake. The farmers have been wanting a permanent wheat board for twenty years, and if they cannot get a permanent board yet, they will take the next best, but hang on to it. Let me refer to the original act itself of 1935:
The governor in council may appoint during pleasure an advisory committee to advise the board, which committee shall consist of not more than seven members of whom four shall represent wheat producers.
The members of the advisory committee shall not obtain any salary but shall be paid a per diem allowance.
All we have to do, if we wish to restore the advisory committee, is to make "may", "shall". I understand from lawyers that in some instances "may" means "shall", but "shall" always means "shall." Sometimes "may" includes "shall"-I do not know. Evidently the government thought they were perfectly within the law in dismissing the advisory committee and not appointing a successor. I assume they were within the law. But were they within the spirit of the law? Here was this most important committee whose services were used in the first year-1935-to arrive at the initial wheat price. There was no trouble about it. There were differences of opinion but I know that there was comparatively little talk before they arrived at the initial price of 871 cents, and as soon as that was fixed everybody was apparently satisfied, and there was no trouble. But ever since we departed from that we have been head over heels in trouble. What a spectacle it is, what an upheaval it has caused, to submit to this parliament a price of 60 cents or any other price and to ask us to decide upon it! We are thus inviting a cat-and-dog squabble from the beginning.
In the first instance, in 1935, it was simply the advisory committee plus the wheat board plus the government that set the initial price of 871 cents. I do not know how many days it took them to decide the matter, but certainly not as many as we are taking in arriving at a decision here. I suggest that if the government were ill-advised, if it took the wrong course, then it should get on to the right one right away. Once we are satisfied that we are on a wrong course it is good business for governments or individuals to regain quickly the right course. I hope I do not say this in any arbitrary way, but I am thoroughly convinced that it was the intention of parliament that the advisory committee should constitute an important integral part of this act, and the intent of parliament was that it should remain there.
I do not believe the government have anything against advisory committees generally. I am quite sure they have not, because in several bills this year advisory committees have been quite properly appointed. The dairy act, the live stock act and one or two others have recognized the principle, so that the government has no objections to advisory committees. Then what objection was there to this one? It took a great burden off the shoulders of parliament and settled a knotty question fairly, and to the extent that it
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Now I must pass on or I will not get half through my story. When the 60 cent wheat announcement was made, the first spring heat wave went over the west, and I think that was what made the snow in Manitoba disappear so early. A deputation or a committee from western Canada, headed by Premier Bracken, came to Ottawa giving reasons for 80 cent wheat. That took place on March 1. On March 27, Bill No. 63, with its 60 cent proviso, was read the first time in the house. Naturally people would take this bill as an answer to the prayer or brief of the western committee, !No wonder the west got busy and prepared a huge petition. I am not one who attaches too much importance to petitions, but I am disposed to attach considerable importance to this one bearing 160,000 signatures, spontaneously attached. So far as the signatures in my constituency are concerned may I say that there are 8,000 of them, and that they ask me for 80 cent wheat, and for any other improvement which can be made in connection with acreage. They laid particular stress on their protest against the 60 cent price and their request for 80 cents.
I must give some heed to their representations.
The second invasion of the Bracken committee came two or three weeks ago. I do not know whether or not they were instrumental in bringing about the change in this bill to 70 cents instead of 60 cents. I do not know why the government made that change, but I must say that I appreciate it. Half a loaf is better than no bread. Just the same, when one considers the statement I was privileged to make not quite a year ago in connection with the contribution made by western farmers to the cause of the allies in keeping down the price of wheat, under the board of grain supervisors, one realizes the vast contribution then made by western Canada. My observations made then fill two or three columns of Hansard, and I shall not give them in detail again. But having regard to the fact that the western farmers in the years 1916, 1917 and 1918 contributed nearly $600,000,000 in reduced prices of wheat, as a result of the board's operations under fixed maximum prices, surely that should be a sufficient line of credit to warranE our having some consideration for the west at a time when we are nearly down and out.
Three years ago it was estimated we were going to be out $15,000,000 on the operations of the board of 1935-36. But the subsequent upswing of the market practically wiped that out. It is claimed by some that had not the alleged "fire sale" disposition of this carry-over been made, better results still would have been experienced. The sales,
however, were made on a competitive basis with other wheats-any other course is not sound business. It would now seem that history is going to repeat itself. We have now an estimated deficit of $48,000,000 in the operations of the wheat board of 1938. No one, however, is in a position to tell exactly what this deficit will be; it is purely an estimate. The Minister of Finance has cut down this figure to $25,000,000. But wheat is now going up, and crops are going down, not only in the United States but in many other countries, and even this remaining $25,000,000 may easily be absorbed by the profits on the new estimated carry-over on August 1, of over 100,000,000 bushels.
I have not found an unfair element in this house, or an unfair attitude towards the west in regard to this matter. I feel confident, theiefore, that when this year's operations are completed there will not be a deficit of even $25,000,000. That money should not be referred to as a loss, any more than the deficit of the Canadian National Railways. We get a service in one case as well as in the other. But I am confident that between now and the beginning of the new grain year that $25,000,000 will further disappear. What, therefore, is all this hullabaloo about the west imposing on the east made by two certain prominent gentlemen at the head of the governments of Ontario and Quebec, and whom our federal government seem anxious to appease by first advocating 60 cent wheat. My humble advice is to go easy on this kind of appeasement policy, and avoid making a second Czechoslovakia of the three prairie provinces. That would not be fair. They have stood up as long as they had the strength in their body to stand up. They are now in the position of an old cow on the lift I do not know whether all hon. members know what is meant by that. A cow gets down, in the spring of the year, near freshening time, and she cannot get up under her "l'ift "Steam' She is then said to be on the
We are on the lift, and we want our friends in eastern Canada to help to put us on our feet until we gather strength to pull our share again. I have always been in favour of a self-sustaining wheat board. I said that two or three years ago; I said it last year and I repeat it now. There is provision in one of the minister's bills, and quite properly I think, for a small tax of one per cent on all wheat going to elevators. I should like to see a small processing tax on flour consumed in Canada, as there is in many other countries. By taking a little bit here and a little bit there we would soon have a reserve sufficient
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to take care of any possible deficit, and we would not then be in the humiliating position of having to beg, as we seem to be to-day, notwithstanding our heavy contributions to eastern industry.
I am skipping a great deal of what I had intended to say, because I wish to finish in the appointed time. I want to vote for the bill under the name of the Minister of Trade and Commerce (Mr. Euler). I will vote for all the bills of the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Gardiner). I do want to vote for the bill of the Minister of Trade and Commerce;
I want to vote for it very badly, but I cannot vote for it in its present form. I do not wish to dictate terms in an arbitrary fashion.
I do not expect to see any more changes in the bill stipulating a 70 cent advance. I cannot imagine the government allowing itself to be pressed further. Where they made their mistake was in not jumping at once, when they saw the gathering storm. But there are a great many people who do not do that. No one in most governments wishes to admit he has been wrong. I should be glad if the government would consider changing the expression " The governor in council may appoint an advisory committee " to " The governor in council shall appoint an advisory committee," involving a change in only one word, thus establishing an advisory committee that we thought we already had. Then I would suggest that it should make a provision whereby the price should be set in the way it has always been set, namely, through a combination of the advisory committee, the grain board, and the government of the day. That is the way it was done so satisfactorily in 1935. But it has not been done that way since, because there has been no advisory committee. I say that would be the logical and proper way to do it.
I cannot understand how in this instance the government could arbitrarily refuse an advisory committee, when all the time in government departments advisory committees are being appointed. The principle has been acknowledged by them. However, in the case of the wheat board they deny it, and I suggest that is a most unfortunate circumstance. It has led to a condition where the price of wheat has to be discussed in parliament, and placed at 60 cents in a bill, raising a great hubbub from one end of Canada to the other. Let us get back to first practices and principles; do not decline to restore a policy simply because it was a Tory government that enacted it previously. I used to think that all the virtues were in my own party, and all the mischief in the Tory party.
But I have had to remodel my views somewhat about that. I realize that we sometimes make a great mistake by assuming that all that the Tories do is necessarily wrong. Here is one case in point. This was a Tory wheat board, this was a Tory advisory committee. Away with them! No, that is a mistake. The latter should have been kept on, and I plead with this government to restore it as a peace-offering to the prairie farmer.
The government having done that, the next logical step is to have an advisory committee to advise, among other duties, on setting the initial wheat price for each year. I think even the government will admit that there have been times when they were in need of advice. Surely they do not think that they know all about it.. Having wilfully deprived themselves of the services of an advisory committee, they have an opportunity now to restore that committee. Even Mr. Hepburn knew when to snap back when he got into trouble in Hastings over the separate school tax. I am not pointing out Mr. Hepburn as an example for this government to follow, except in this particular. That was the proper course for him to take. He never turned a hair, and away he went again. This government should not consider that they are infallible, that they are always right, when we know very well that, being human, they, like us all, are liable to err. There must have been times when they needed the services of an advisory committee.
I submit that the government should make these two simple and reasonable changes. I should like to hear some argument against the restoration of the advisory committee. I do not think one could be presented. This would be an appropriate type of appeasement to offer our wounded farmers. By such action, the government would be doing simple justice to themselves. The government having appointed an advisory committee, its members could be called round a common table with the wheat board and the government to set a price instead of having hon. members unavoidably wrangling over something with which many have little opportunity to familiarize themselves. There is the solution. If that were done, I would vote for the bill. We will not get any more than 70 cents leaving this bill as it is. Prices are likely to go up. The first thing we know the market price will be 80 cents or more. As soon as the price goes beyond the 70 cents, the board will not be worth a continental because, as has been previously pointed out, only a comparatively few will patronize it. The outside market will be higher. I think we would have a better
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chance of improving on 70 cents if the price were set with the aid of an advisory committee. The market is almost sure to go up. Just let Hitler shake his sabre once more, and the deficit of this year may all go up the flue. We do not want it done from that cause, but that is what may happen.
Before I sit down, I should like to repeat what I have said. Let us have these two amendments which were originally intended to be in the bill permanently. If that is done, I will even support the thus amended Bill No. 63, which, as originally drafted, raised such Cain all over the prairies on March 27.
Topic: PRAIRIE FARM ASSISTANCE
Subtopic: PERCENTAGE DEDUCTION FROM GRAINS MARKETED IN SPRING WHEAT AREA-PROVISION FOR ACREAGE PAYMENT