Mr. W. F. KUHL (Jasper-Edson):
Mr. Speaker, without wishing to give offence to any of the hon. gentlemen who have preceded me, I wish to say that at no time have I been adept in the art of making a hogshead of lather out of an ounce of soap; so I shall make my remarks as brief and to the point as I can, in view of the general desire to terminate this session as quickly as possible.
It was my pleasure and privilege to be a member of the prices committee, though not from its inception. I commenced my service with it at the end of April, in the position previously occupied by my colleague the hon. member for Bow River (Mr. Johnston).
First I should like to endorse the compliments which have been paid by previous speakers to the chairman of the committee, the counsel and the members as a whole, but in endorsing their remarks, I must say there was a notable omission from the compliments that were extended. I believe the witnesses who appeared before the committee, representing various businesses, also deserve a compliment for the contribution they made to the work of that committee, and I wish them
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to know that, as a member, I certainly appreciate the information I obtained. I believe they should be complimented, not only for the information they gave and the patience with which they submitted to cross-examination, but also for the manner in which they overlooked what in some instances 1 consider were positive insults. Perhaps that language is somewhat strong, but sometimes I felt that if I had been in the place of the witness I would have been tempted to make much stronger replies to the questions asked.
I voted for the setting up of this committee in the first place; not because I felt that anything startling or unusual would be revealed, but because I felt that, information might be brought forward which would dispel some of the false impressions abroad in the country, and also that, as a result of the work of the committee, we might be better able to determine what should be done in the circumstances. I believe a good deal of information was placed on the record which, if the public could become aware of it, would dispel certain false impressions which are abroad.
As has been indicated already by the hon. member for Eglinton (Mr. Fleming). I opposed the adoption of the report by the committee. Manj' of the reasons for which I felt I was justified in opposing it were advanced by the hon. member for Eglinton. In the main I believe the criticisms he offered were quite justified and I endorse most of them.
But I had an additional reason for opposing adoption of the report. I think my chief reason was the attitude adopted by the government members, which I resented very much. When I spoke on the motion to set up this committee I said I thought one reason the government was glad to take that action was that for the time being it would silence the wrath of the people with respect to the high cost of living. It would enable the government to offer the excuse that a parliamentary committee was investigating the matter, and as long as that committee sat they could transfer the responsibility from themselves to the committee. The committee has now finished its work; certain recommendations have been made, but I agree with those who have suggested that it still remains to be seen how effective those recommendations will be if carried out. Personally I consider them woefully inadequate to meet the situation.
The attitude on the part of the government members of the committee which I resented so much was expressed in the manner in which many of the witnesses who appeared before the committee were dealt with. I resented
the suggestion that, instead of being regarded as public benefactors, most of the witnesses who appeared there seemed to find the atmosphere like that of a sort of inquisition. They were looked upon as public enemies, who had to account for some wrongdoing. That was the impression I received from the manner in which many of the questions were asked; and I am going to read a few excerpts from the records of the committee to substantiate what I have said. I would not say that applied in every instance; nevertheless in many cases it was true.
Naturally I tried to discover a motive, and the only motive I could arrive at was that up to that time-and it is still the case-the government were not prepared to meet their responsibility in the way I at least think they should. The government have not met their responsibility because they have not done those things I believe they should do for the people of Canada, and therefore the government must look for a scapegoat. I considered the attitude they took toward many of these businessmen was because they were looking for a scapegoat for their own sins. They were attempting to make private business the scapegoat for their sins. In my view it was most unfair for the committee, and furthermore I believe it is a dangerous attitude to take.
From all sides of the house we have heard expressions of fear of the communist menace with its danger to the private enterprise system and freedom in general. The government, the Liberal party and the Progressive Conservative party nominally at least represent themselves as being the champions of the private enterprise system. Yet if one goes over the evidence somewhat carefully he will find that a concerted effort was made in the committee to discredit private business-or at least it had that effect. I am satisfied, from the newspaper reports which went out in consequence of some of the questions asked in committee, that many of the public are under the impression that a large number of businessmen are just a lot of bloated profiteers and chiselers. I believe there is too much of that impression abroad. There has been too much of it abroad for too long a time, without those wiho claim to be the champions of private enterprise lending any more emphasis to it.
Just to indicate a little more specifically what I mean, I should like to refer to one instance of this. While I think of it, perhaps I should say at this juncture that I can understand hon. members of the C.C.F. party doing that, because they have come out flat-footed and have said they are opposed to the private
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enterprise system and opposed to profit. Therefore it is in their political interest to discredit private business as much as they can so as to give them an excuse for nationalizing industry.
However I cannot understand that attitude on the part of those who pretend to be the champions of private enterprise. Therefore I resented the attitude taken by some of the Liberal members on the committee when dealing with some of these matters. The case to which I shall refer is one where possibly we cannot altogether excuse the people involved. But again, as has already been pointed out, I think the .circumstances are attributable to government policy. It was the government which was really responsible. They made possible the circumstances under which these things could happen. Then government members have the gall to turn around and blame someone for taking advantage of those circumstances.
Here is one instance of it-and in this particular instance I think the general public would get the impression that most of the fruit and vegetable business was carried on in this manner, and that profits of this kind, were made regularly in that business. This is the case of Mr. Ruben Marlow, general manager of Marlow and Company Limited of Toronto. It is the case of the famous four carloads of potatoes. I should like to indicate here the way in which this man was spoken to and in which he was treated, which I thought was unfair and uncalled for, in view of the conditions for which the government itself was responsible.
The hon. member for Victoria (Mr. May-hew) was in the chair at the time, and it is his remarks I am going to quote. This/is what he said to Mr. Marlow:
I want to say this; it is my opinion, and it is a little more than an opinion that, in this particular transaction, both the government and its departments were trying to see that there was a supply of new potatoes on the market. The foreign exchange control board released American funds for this purpose. It would appear to me you took advantage of the situation and you prevented potatoes from getting to the public at a reasonable price. In other words, you did not live up to the spirit of the regulations which existed at that time. You took an exceedingly high mark-up. I certainly will draw this to the attention of those writing the report because I think you are doing a disservice, not only to yourself and to the people of Canada, but to the other people in your own business.
Then, when I myself pressed the witness to make a comment upon that statement, the acting chairman said this further:
I fully understand the explanation you make. As far as I am concerned there is no explanar\Ir. Kuhl.]
tion at all, there is no justification for it. There is no justification in your having taken the mark-up on the potatoes which you did at that time. That is my opinion. Those who are writing the report -will have to deal with it in their own way. I feel it is my duty to make that quite plain. As I see it, I consider it one of the most outstanding cases of its kind that has yet been brought to the attention of this committee.
So far as I recall, it was shown that this particular wholesaler had made 43 per cent on the sales of two carloads of potatoes. That is undoubtedly a very high profit. He justified it himself. He considered that it was fair, in the light of prices of vegetables at that time. I considered these statements of the vicechairman a most unwarranted censure of a businessman. In any event, I think the committee could have made statements of that kind among themselves, without saying it to the man personally.
Topic: MOTION FOR CONCURRENCE IN REPORT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE