Mr. Gordon Ritchie (Dauphin):
Mr. Speaker, as a newcomer to this house I have listened over the past few days to the various views expressed by hon. members on a wide variety of subjects. I find that while I am not entirely in agreement with much that has been said, I can subscribe wholeheartedly to one sentiment that appears to be universally shared, namely, the pride and pleasure of this house in the re-election of Your Honour as Speaker. I would like to add my congratulations to you, to your new deputy and to all those who have been appointed to various tasks in this new parliament as well as to the mover (Mr. Corbin) and the seconder (Mr. Marchand) of the address in reply to the Speech from the Throne. I congratulate the mover and the seconder, but at the same time I feel sorry that they had to work so valiantly in support of such a poor thing as this Speech from the Throne.
[DOT] (9:00 p.m.)
If it truly represents the legislative plans of this government, then I can only describe it as disappointing and disillusioning. It will be particularly so to the people of my riding of Dauphin where agriculture is such a vital factor. As the hon. member for Lisgar (Mr. Muir) pointed out in the house the other day, 60 per cent of prairie residents are directly or indirectly dependent upon the grain industry.
The Speech from the Throne, as a reflection of government plans, was woefully deficient in the area of agriculture. At a time when there are great and urgent problems in agriculture, particularly in the wheat sector, this government appears to be blissfully unaware of them: Merely adjusting farm credit upward or tinkering with existing programs falls far short of what is needed at this time.
While our attitude to the whole agricultural industry in Canada needs complete rethinking and a radical and entirely new approach, the truly pressing problem lies in the area of
wheat production. Canada's wheat channels today are choked with a tremendous carryover. Piling up behind this is another bumper crop. By the time the current harvest is completed, this country will be faced with a disposable amount of wheat totaling well in excess of one billion bushels-some estimates place this figure at one and a quarter billion bushels.
What are the prospects of disposing of this huge amount of wheat? From the best available reports, the prospects are dim. Canada is caught between the inexorable pressure of wheat production and the increasing constriction imposed by dwindling foreign sales. When we consider that only about 10 per cent of our wheat production is absorbed by the domestic market, it can easily be seen what even the smallest dwindling of sales abroad can mean.
It is true that the wheat picture has been complicated by the crippling two-months strike of the grain handlers at lakehead ports, by unnaturally wet weather in the west, particularly in Manitoba, and by frost and other factors. These things will increasingly in the months ahead make much more difficult the movement of wheat from the farms to the elevators, to the terminals and to the final shipping ports. But these are temporary difficulties that have been experienced and overcome in the past.
What is much more serious and what is much more difficult to solve is the problem of maintaining the flow of wheat through sales to foreign customers. The whole wheat marketing picture has changed and is changing. The international wheat picture is chaotic. If we cannot adjust to changing circumstances, Canada is going to be left with her wheat with disastrous results, not only to the wheat producing areas but to the Canadian economy as a whole.
Right now Canada's traditional wheat export channel is like a garden hose in which the water has been fully turned on but on which the nozzle has been turned until the jet has been reduced to a fine spray. The restriction in this case is our inability to sell.
What is the situation in the world market place? For almost all of last year the uncontrolled buying and selling of wheat which followed the lapsing of the old international wheat agreement and the regulations imposed by the new international cereals agreement brought wide scale price cutting, cutthroat competition and the necessity of imposing
September 23, 1968
The Address-Mr. Ritchie
emergency measures to maintain a fair price for the Canadian producer.
This chaotic state of the market was supposed to be ended by the implementation of the provisions of the international cereals agreement last July. Canadian wheat producers were led to expect that things would return to normal, with Canada automatically picking up her old markets and customers at the new minimum price of $1.95J per bushel, a figure 21 cents above the old price of two years ago.
What Canadian wheat farmers and the officials of the Canadian wheat board who are responsible for marketing our wheat found out, however, was that there was no easy way back to the old conditions. In the year of freely changing prices and lack of international agreement, conditions have changed greatly. The new world wheat agreement came into effect, but it failed to work either smoothly or effectively. In fact, things have now reached such a pass that many experts are predicting a total collapse.
In the past two years, Canada has grimly attempted to maintain a decent minimum price for wheat in the face of unrestricted dumping and price cutting, even by such ethical exporters as the United States. Since last July when the new world agreement came into effect, she has valiantly attempted to maintain the new world minimum of $1.95J, but apparently with little success. We have the satisfaction of sticking to our international bargain, but we are not selling wheat.
We are in great danger of being isolated. Our customers are changing, our competitors are changing, and only we remain the same. Can we survive by clinging stubbornly to traditional patterns in a world of such swift change? Under the old international wheat agreements, the international market was fairly orderly. The subscribing nations, both the importing and the exporting nations, abided by the terms and conditions laid down. Today, barely three months since the new type of international agreement came into force, there is widespread bickering and increasingly bad blood between countries. France and Australia have been accused of price cutting. The United States has so far abided by the agreement, and so has this country. However, she has sworn to move 750 million bushels of wheat abroad this year, and if her competitors have found a way around the international minimum price, we can be very sure the United States will also.
Now, let us look at our customers, the traditional markets abroad for our wheat. India aims to be self-sufficient and to cease importing wheat within three years. Pakistan is striving toward the same goal. The Japanese market has been largely lost to France, mainly on the basis of a price which we disdained to meet or were too proud to try to meet. In Great Britain, Holland, Belgium, and also Italy to a certain extent, changing tastes have dictated changes in the types and grades of grain that will be purchased. The high quality wheat for which Canada is so justly famous, and which forms a large part of our exports, is in less demand. Then, too, the importing nations are attempting by every possible means, and very successfully in some cases, to improve their own agriculture in order to provide their own needs and conserve foreign exchange.
This, Mr. Speaker, is the ominous picture we must face now and in the foreseeable future. I do not think we can face up to it successfully if we only do those inconsequential things suggested in the speech from the throne. We expend far too little in the way of research money and effort in support of our grain industry. When we consider the vital role the grain industry plays in our national economy, the amount of money expended is trifling. So far as I can determine, and judging from recent discussions among western agricultural representatives, we have done nothing at all in the field of marketing research. In any other industry, particularly an export industry, a very large proportion of the annual budget goes to supporting marketing and market research. In the wheat industry, the individual producer is not in a position economically or technologically to undertake this tremendous task. It must be done by the federal or the provincial governments, together and singly.
I should like to see our new Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Olson) bring in a measure to ensure such vital basic support to the industry. I hope he will not procrastinate and put off doing anything on the excuse that he is waiting for a recommendation from the new national grains council yet to be set up. These are remedies that are needed quickly. If he waits for an as yet unestablished body to be set up, to consider the problem, make studies and finally come up with recommendations, he will find that Canada has ceased to be an exporter of wheat and has become an importer instead.
September 23, 1968
I believe that at this critical period in our agricultural development we must be prepared to act swiftly and boldly and we must not allow ourselves to be bound by past practice or traditional methods. I believe we must be prepared to be bold, radical innovators, to scrap the old grain legislation if necessary and start from scratch with new ideas and new techniques to meet new conditions.
Views on a two price system for wheat vary. Much can be said both for and against it. But, since this government has promised it to the wheat producers during the past three general elections, I think it only fair they bring it forward for our consideration. If it did nothing else, such a close scrutiny of wheat producing, shipping and marketing problems would undoubtedly produce a great deal of useful information.
As I see the situation, we need to work on two levels: One is immediate, emergency type legislation to tide our agricultural industry over a difficult period, and the other is to provide a long term solution to the basic difficulties and provide a policy base for future expansion and development.
Before leaving the subject of agriculture entirely, I should like to say a word about the great difficulty which faces the young man who wants to farm but finds today's conditions all but prohibit him from following his chosen calling.
[DOT] (9:10 p.m.)
I feel that one of the greatest hurdles to a young farmer in attempting to establish himself is the tremendous difficulty of acquiring and carrying the capital required under modern conditions. The accumulation of adequate farm capital is a very great problem in all parts of Canada. Even if a government or governments jointly provide part or all of the initial investment necessary to establish a modern, mechanized farming operation, the young farmer is handicapped by the heavy annual costs involved and by the uncertainty of returns. He must service his debt, pay income tax, meet the steady rise in the cost of living, and make provision for emergency and necessary annual improvements. In addition, he faces fluctuating prices and uncertain markets. He is at a grave disadvantage in comparison to his counterpart in the urban areas. A young man, in an urban area, must face taxes, the cost of living and other expenses that are perhaps a little higher. But, in most cases, he is drawing his living from a
The Address-Mr. Ritchie plant, the capital cost of which, and the annual cost of servicing that capital cost, is borne by someone else. The result is that at year's end the urban young man will be better off by several thousand dollars compared to his rural counterpart.
I think that much closer study must be given to ways of ensuring that those who wish to farm and are capable of adding to Canada's economic development through competent farming, are able to establish themselves in conditions of fairness and justice. Let us not be hasty in writing off agriculture. In Canada, it remains a large and important part of our national economic life and will do so throughout the foreseeable future. I apologize if I appear to have laboured the point of agriculture's problems. But, together with many other Canadians, I am genuinely alarmed and concerned at the lack of appreciation of agriculture's importance to the whole nation and the dangers of not taking immediate action to assist this basic industry. I would urge my colleagues, whose primary concern is with the problems of urban, industrial areas or with other aspects of Canadian life, to give close consideration to the interdependency of all sectors of the economy and of all regions of the country. I urge them to look at agriculture as a major factor affecting all those problems with which they are chiefly concerned.
I would have liked to deal with many other topics today, such as the proposed legislation on prescription drugs, the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code, and many other things. I would have liked also to have said something about the implications inherent in branding any society "just" or any other vote getting catch-word, a practice that in my estimation amounts to the equivalent of false advertising. I believe that such sloganeering is misleading and that it does a disservice to Canadians. The men who coin and use such catchy phrases know as well as anyone else that no society yet known to history has been capable of being perfected suddenly and dramatically. Society, and man himself, are not susceptible of overnight change. Yet such a phrase as the just society subtly implies that in the twinkling of an eye everything is to be made the best in the best of all possible worlds. Many people, too many people, can be convinced against their better judgment by such methods. Faced with national conditions as they are, with the fact of human nature, with limited national resources and circumscribed by time, no government can
The Address-Mr. Ritchie produce instant miracles, no government can recreate the world. To suggest that it can, even by the subtlest inference, is misleading and unjust.
Honesty dictates that any government study the needs of its people, assess the urgency of each and then ascribe to each a place in the order of priority. Tax dollars are limited. They should be put to use on the basis of greatest good for the greatest number. It is not a question of what we would like to have but of what we can sensibly do. I think the priorities approach is long overdue in facing up to Canada's national problems.
There are many other points, particularly in the field of health and welfare, upon which I would like to have touched. But no doubt there will be ample opportunity for me to speak of them in greater detail at a more appropriate time. In the meantime, I do hope that the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Olson), and the cabinet as a whole, will give the most urgent consideration to dealing with the rapidly deteriorating situation in regard to wheat handling and marketing.
Topic: SPEECH FROM THE THRONE
Subtopic: CONTINUATION OF DEBATE ON ADDRESS IN REPLY