Mr. Chairman, I intend to speak only briefly on this resolution. This measure is designed primarily to give a degree of security to the prairie wheat producers. I am sure it will meet with widespread acceptance in Saskatchewan by people of all political affiliations. As you know, the
prairies have always been particularly susceptible to the vagaries of drought, so susceptible in fact that wheat growing is called the greatest gamble in the world.
Hon. members will recall that in the 1930's our farmers on the prairies went through experiences which were almost unbelievable. A terrible drought which lasted for five or six years brought many thousands of farmers to their knees economically. In those days a farmer had to depend completely upon his own resources, and as a consequence a great majority of them were forced to go on direct relief. Most of the residents in these rural areas had to depend on eastern Canada for assistance, even for charity, for their needs in clothing and sometimes in food. The resulting situation robbed the farmers of western Canada in many cases of their dignity, their self-respect and their pride. Many were forced to move to other parts of the country.
These terrible conditions were largely responsible for the growth of the C.C.F. in Saskatchewan. Many people joined the C.C.F., not because they were socialists but rather because they were fed up with the depression conditions which then existed. I recall my own reasoning during that period. I came back to western Canada from university in 1936 when half the population of our province was on relief. I felt that there must be something wrong with a government which would permit conditions of that kind to exist. The C.C.F. was new, its speakers were plausible, and many of us hoped that they had policies which would help the farmer. Unfortunately time and experience have proved us to have been completely wrong.
One of the great virtues of the Liberal party is that it tries to benefit from past experience. It tries not to make the same mistake twice. That is one reason why this legislation is before us today. There are some in the house who have argued that crop insurance is the only answer to the problem of providing security for the western grain farmer. Undoubtedly crop insurance would be an ideal solution. But unfortunately there is not a company in the world, not even Lloyd's of London, which would be willing to assume the risks involved in insuring the western grain crop.
Whether the socialists like it or not, there is no power that the federal government has under our constitution, under which they can introduce crop insurance. That field lies completely within the jurisdiction of our provincial governments. If the socialists feel so strongly that we should have crop insurance, they should appeal to the C.C.F. government in Saskatchewan.
So the Liberal party had to look elsewhere for a solution.
In 1939, largely, I think, at the instigation of the Minister of Agriculture, an alternative to crop insurance was found and the original P.F.A.A. was introduced. Its object was simple and straightforward; it sought to guarantee to the western farmer that no matter how severely he was treated by the vagaries of climate or nature, he would have a certain basic income with which to pay for food and clothing and, perhaps, seed. Under the 1939 act, a minimum payment of $2.50 per acre was provided on half the cultivated acreage up to a maximum of 400 acres, with a total payment not exceeding $500.
Mr. Chairman, this particular act has been to the prairie farmer what the Unemployment Insurance Act has been to the working man. The farmer has borne a part of the cost by paying out one cent a bushel on the wheat he sells, but it is interesting to note that payments to farmers under this act have far exceeded what they have contributed.
Between 1939 and July 1956, prairie producers paid into the fund approximately $95 million. In the same period they have received benefits amounting to $184 million. I think the farmers of Moose Jaw-Lake Centre might be interested to know that they have drawn $6,815,000 under this act. I am sure the people of Assiniboia would be interested in knowing that up to December 31, 1955, they had drawn $13,762,000 under this act.
These substantial payments indicate the value of this Liberal legislation. For a number of years prairie Liberals have realized that the benefits under the act should be extended, and they have consistently urged such action on their colleagues from other parts of Canada. I think the reasons for these representations are fairly obvious. Since 1939 the cost of living has gone up and also the cost of production to the farmer, while inflation has depreciated the value of the Canadian dollar. Now the appeals of prairie Liberal members and, particularly, the appeals of the Minister of Agriculture were made on their merits, in a spirit of reasonableness and co-operation, and this legislation which is before us today is a direct result of those representations.
Under this bill when it is brought down, if my understanding is correct, the benefits will be increased over-all by roughly 50 per cent. Yet the cost to the farmer remains constant. I am convinced, as I said a moment ago, that the farmers of Saskatchewan almost without exception will welcome this measure with open arms. This is particularly true, Mr. Chairman, because of the effects of the great North American drought.
I have talked to many Canadians in recent weeks who have travelled through some of
Prairie Farm Assistance Act the states south of Saskatchewan-Texas, Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma-and most of them have been shocked by the devastating effects of that drought. They were shocked by the dust that is flying everywhere, and by the ruin and the desolation which have been caused. It is our earnest hope that this drought will not extend northward into Saskatchewan, yet we know from past experience that this is likely to happen. I say that if a drought does come to Saskatchewan this P.F.A.A. legislation which is now before us, will be one of the major weapons which will be used to fight the effects of that disaster.
I was very interested in C.C.F. criticism of this bill. As they so frequently do, when government legislation is introduced, they announced that they would support it. They dare not do anything else. Then, of course, immediately afterwards they said in effect: "It does not go far enough; a 50 per cent increase in payments is not sufficient; the benefits should be doubled."
Topic: PRAIRIE FARM ASSISTANCE ACT
Subtopic: AMENDMENTS TO INCREASE AUTHORIZED AWARDS AND LEVY