Mr. Alan Cockeram (York South):
Mr. Speaker, in this morning's Montreal Gazette there was a reference to a brief which had been submitted to the Minister of Trade and Commerce (Mr. Howe) by the Canadian Exporters Association, in which there was a charge that the Minister of Trade and Commerce had misled the public regarding the trade situation of Canada. I think this is the time when this matter should be discussed because, of the interim supply, a minimum of $27 million is desired for the next four months to carry on the Department of Trade and Commerce. In the brief, which was evidently given to the Minister of Trade and Commerce, the government was also charged with allowing a further deterioration in the trade of the dominion.
The continued deterioration of Canada's export trade position is a matter of grave concern to this nation and one which demands immediate action by the government, action which should be taken before parliament is dissolved, possibly tomorrow. Unfortunately the government has chosen to defer dealing with this vital question in the hope that the election will be over before the people of Canada as a whole fully realize the serious situation with which they are now faced because of inaction and blundering by the Department of Trade and Commerce with their do-nothing policy as far as trade is concerned.
The government policy of leaning on the United States, because that is what we have done in the last few months, on the European recovery program, the Atlantic pact, and any other prop which may be available to the government at this time, has put us in the position in which we are today. In an effort to hide the true situation the publicity bureau
of the Department of Trade and Commerce is working overtime to tell the Canadian people about our increased exports to the United States, and how these were made possible by the actions of the present government. What they fail to mention, however, is the temporary nature of these exports, a situation which is rapidly being realized today as surpluses are expected in United States production.
The history of trade in the past has shown that, because of similarity of production in the United States and Canada, the Canadian producer always loses the United States markets as soon as they have an excess of supplies available in that country. Speakers, in an effort to justify the trade policy of this floundering government, have stated that export trade in 1948 has set a new peacetime record in dollar value. What they fail to tell the Canadian people is that this was due to expenditures of ECA money, and other moneys which the United States government made available for this purpose. They are relying on that more than they are on a sound or reasonable dependence upon United States markets, which take too great a percentage of their imports from this country in raw, unprocessed materials. As a result of misleading government propaganda, the Canadian people are not fully aware of the danger which today threatens their export markets.
I was very pleased today, as I was yesterday, to hear the hon. member for Lake Centre (Mr. Diefenbaker) deal with this subject. He treated it more from the point of view of agriculture than I propose to do at this time. As surpluses accumulate in the United States, and the indications are very definite that such surpluses are appearing there, Canadian export markets will be further restricted. Our export outlets to the United Kingdom have been lost largely because of the inadequacy of the government in dealing with situations as they arise from day to day. They have a tendency to drift along any course except that of facing up to the problem in line with their responsibilities as a government.
During the period 1939 to 1949 we negotiated 142 contracts with the United Kingdom for the supply of various foodstuffs, and had as many as twenty-two of these in effect at one time. Today we have three contracts left. Those other markets for primary products of the producers of this country have been lost to such countries as Russia, Poland, the Ukraine, Hungary, Denmark, Yugoslavia, Roumania, and many others that are too numerous to name.
It was mentioned in the house last night by the hon. member for Lake Centre that the
chief issue in the coming election will be the trade policy of the government. As one who represents an urban riding, where there are many factories, I certainly agree with the remarks made by the hon. member for Lake Centre. I subscribe to that view wholeheartedly because in this nation one-third of our national income is derived from our export trade, and I think everybody will agree that our export trade is being seriously threatened today by the wholly inadequate policies and efforts of the present government.
The hon. member for Lake Centre pointed out to the house this afternoon that two days ago the Minister of Trade and Commerce told the people of Canada that there was nothing to worry about as far as our trade was concerned, and that he was going to England, not to try to obtain trade, or to seek agreements, but to open the trade fair. The hon. member for Lake Centre also pointed out that in today's Canadian newspapers there appeared a statement by the Minister of Trade and Commerce made in England to Reuters news agency, I believe, that his main reason for being in England was to obtain trade for this country.
In the month of February our favourable balance of trade with the rest of the world slumped sharply when it fell from $15,200,000 in January to $1,200,000 in February. For the same month last year our favourable trade balance was $28,100,000. These figures indicate clearly the present trend in our trade relations and speak in no uncertain terms of the reason the government hopes to get a snap election over with before the effects become widely known and felt by the citizens of this country as a whole.
The effect, Mr. Speaker, of this present trend in our trade, if allowed to continue, will mean in the next three months that where three men were employed in a factory in Canada one man will be left in employment. It will mean accumulated surpluses in the hands of primary producers of this country. Farmers will again be called upon to be the shock absorbers to a recession in our economy. There is no question about it that if this situation continues in the way it is today our farmers will have surplus farm products, our miners will have a surplus of base metals and, going right through the piece, our manufacturers will have a surplus of manufactured products.
Surplus production on the one hand and government policies resulting in loss of markets on the other means difficult days ahead not only for Canadian farmers but for Canadian industry and Canadian workers as a whole.
No one knows better the truth of the present situation I have just described than
the ministers of the government, and more particularly the Minister of Trade and Commerce (Mr. Howe). I believe he is a little late in his desire or his ambition to go to the old country and to Europe to try to regain some of those lost markets which, I suggest, we lost through carelessness on the part of the department which handles these affairs.
The present loss of markets to Canada, arising largely because of the policy of the present government to depend upon the action of other governments, and their failure to take any constructive action themselves not only threatens to bring about a national crisis in this country in a matter of a few months, but threatens the very basis of our whole social security program.
While on the one hand the government talks of all the social security measures it proposes for the people of Canada, its policies of inaction, floundering and failure are losing marke.s which, in the past, have accounted for one-third of the national income of this nation. If we are to be in a position to pay for these social security measures, which every party in this house believes are most desirable, then we must maintain our export trade as a means of financing such social security programs.
Without maximum employment and maximum revenue from taxation, the old age pension which was passed yesterday, and many others of these social security policies, could not be brought into effect. The only alternative, if we cannot maintain our trade, is to finance such a program by excessive taxation-and we have seen something of excessive taxation in this country. It is only with the budget of this year that taxes have been reduced to a point where people do not find it so hard to pay them. The type of excessive taxation to which we have been subjected in the last few years has been a very heavy burden upon the people of this country.
Our volume of exports this year, to date, is much less than it was for corresponding months last year. Much more serious, however, is the fact that the reduced value of orders now on hand-and I think hon. members should understand this-is reflecting itself in a continuing downward trend week by week; and indications are it will become increasingly serious within a matter of some months, unless positive measures are taken immediately to halt the decline in our export markets.
Notwithstanding the apparent hurry of the Prime Minister (Mr. St. Laurent) to close off discussion in this parliament relating to matters of vital concern to the country, there are several aspects of the present government's policy upon which the Canadian people are entitled to further information. I
propose to place on the records of parliament at this time several of these urgent questions pertaining to government policy on matters of trade, and I would ask the Prime Minister or the Minister of Trade and Commerce to provide parliament and the Canadian people with the information requested before calling for dissolution.
My questions are these:
1. Under the provisions of the Atlantic pact, and in accordance with the statement of the Prime Minister on November 11 last that in the opinion of the Canadian government the Atlantic pact would not be fully effective if it is nothing more than a military alliance, but must concern itself with matters of trade as well, what representations, if any, have been made by Canada to-
(a) Instigate immediate discussions among countries presently signatories to the Atlantic pact, with a view towards discontinuance of the present trend of self-isolation in matters of trade through the medium of barter deals, particularly with countries within or under the shadow of the iron curtain?
I believe this is a very important question. We have signed the Atlantic pact, and if any discussion took place, then certainly trade matters were discussed. I say the government should say where we are heading in this regard.
2. What representations if any have been made by the Canadian government with a view towards removal of the barriers to trade within the signatory nations of the Atlantic pact, particularly with reference to the dollar-sterling situation?
3. What representations if any have been made by the Canadian government relative to the continued departure, by countries signatory to the Atlantic pact, from the expressed purpose of multilateral trade, as outlined in the Geneva and Havana trade agreements to which Canada and these other countries are also signatories?
4. What representations if any have been made by the Canadian government to the government of the United Kingdom for the purpose of reviewing under present circumstances the disastrous effect upon Canada's present and future trade arising from the imposition of the present fiscal policy of the United Kingdom in matters of trade upon her colonies, which are members of the British commonwealth of nations, to which Canada belongs?
5. I would ask that parliament be given a report on the findings, to date, of the committee established by the government of Canada and the United Kingdom to review the progress of trade between the two countries, reported in the speech from the throne
when parliament opened to have been meeting in London at that time, and reported in the press to have adjourned about a week later.
I bring these questions to the attention of the government because the people I represent-and I represent an urban riding-as well as the Canadian people as a whole want to know the position of the government in these matters.
The man who works in a factory is vitally interested because he knows that today orders are rapidly falling off because of our inability to export, and that unless some positive action is taken now he will be receiving a notice in his pay envelope that his services are to be discontinued.
Farmers know that unless markets are found for their products surpluses will accumulate, prices will fall to levels below cost, and their standard of living will be reduced accordingly.
I repeat, Mr. Speaker, before this parliament dissolves the people of Canada are entitled to further information as to the trade policies of the government. The people should be told what action, if any, is to be taken to meet the present serious crisis arising in this country.
In voting supply for these additional months, one great source from which that supply must come must be the sales tax. I am one of those who believe that, as well as reducing the income tax for 750,000 people as the government has done, consideration should also have been given to the reduction of the sales tax. Every member of this house knows that the sales tax is a tax which is taken out of the pockets of the people. True, it is taken in a very innocuous manner, but it is taken out of the pockets of every resident in Canada.
After all, even at the old rates of income tax, there were a great many people in Canada who did not pay any taxes at all. Those people have received no benefit from the budget which has been brought down within the past few weeks. Those people are still paying these unseen and unknown sales taxes which in the aggregate amount to so much money. I believe that the only reason the government removed the tax on soft drinks was that the soft drink manufacturers came to the point where, when they advertised their goods for sale, they put the cost of the goods as five cents and the tax as two cents. I feel positive that is the reason for the removal of that tax.
Subtopic: REFERENCE TO REMARKS IN DEBATE OF APRIL 27