Mr. Peter Siefura (Vegreville):
Mr. Speaker, the bill before us which provides for the stabilization of agricultural commodities has received more publicity than any other measure since the June 10 election. At least that has been the case in all the agricultural communities. It was supposed to have been the trump card or the ace in the hole of the entire Conservative platform. It was claimed that when the bill was enacted it would become the bill of rights for the farm people of Canada.
I, as a farmer, and realizing only too well the problems faced by the farm people, was hoping that at least some of these claims would be true. I was hoping that the resolutions on the price support policy passed at the F.U.A. convention in Edmonton on December 9-13, 1957, would be incorporated in this bill. The minister himself, when introducing this piece of legislation, at the resolution stage had this to say, as found at page 2186 of Hansard:
This is a far-reaching and important piece of legislation, perhaps the most important, in its implications, in its expected results for agriculture and its effect on the general economy, that has been considered by the Canadian parliament for many years. I believe this legislation will give to our farmers a much greater degree of security than they have ever enjoyed in our history-
And so on.
The bill began with great expectations of giving the farmer a fair deal. However, this did not last for very long. The longer the minister spoke the more he took away, so that by the time he had finished one realized that we were getting something which would be a lot less than we actually had even under the old Agricultural Prices Support Act. It was severely criticized by the members of our group, by the C.C.F. members and others. It was opposed by the farm unions, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the interprovincial farm union council. I think someone called it a great disappointment. Some hon. members referred to it as a monstrosity, and I believe somebody else said it was so much garbage on the farmers' doorstep.
I did hope that all this talk of how much this bill was going to do for the farmers was not just so much eyewash but that it would have some real meat in it, that it would give some really solid help to the agricultural industry, that it would be something for the farmer to fall back on and to depend upon.
The efforts of this opposition did bring about changes. The Minister of Agriculture, in introducing second reading of the bill, did
let it be known that when this bill came before the committee of the whole he would propose five amendments to it. With the unanimous consent of the house, and in order to speed up passage of the bill and to get down to the true meaning of it, these amendments were permitted to be discussed and incorporated in the bill before reaching the committee stage. The result of all this is that we now have a reprint of the original bill with the amendments added, but it is still known as Bill No. 237.
These five amendments alone, even though the general principle has not been changed, serve to prove that the original bill was no more than the minister merely trying to palm off on the agricultural industry what I would say is nothing more than an old windblown horse. By merely adding amendments to the original bill with no change in the principle it is no more than brushing the old horse's coat and adding a few ribbons to its tail. We nevertheless still have the old windblown horse. What we actually need is a bill which is good and sound, something the farmer can go to work on, something that will stand pressure when it does come through.
We have had a preamble added; we also have had the base period changed from three to ten years. If I may take the privilege for a moment, as has been done by the minister himself and by some other members, I would like to refer to at least one or two of these little amendments, first making brief reference to section 7, subsection (1), which I feel constitutes the key to the whole bill and brings up the question of base prices, floor prices and guaranteed prescribed prices as proposed in this legislation.
Although the amendment clarifies the original concept of the bill, it serves at the same time to indicate how ridiculous are some of the clauses, and it also shows how far removed this legislation is from the actual requests of the farm people made through the farm organizations, and how far it is removed from the campaign promises. The latter part of this clause, about half way down, says that it-referring of course to the duties of the board-shall take such actions and make such recommendations as are necessary to ensure that the prescribed price for an agricultural commodity in effect from time to time shall bear a fair relationship to the base price for such commodities. I have never in my life been able to figure out how one is able to take a percentage of something and say this will bear a fair relationship to the same thing out of which you have taken the percentage.
If we have a look at the base price, it has been previously described as the average of the preceding three years in any given period for any given product. The product might be butter, pork, eggs or beef. Let us say the area is Edmonton, where a variety of products have been sold at a variety of prices in the last three years. We would then have the average and that would be the base price, but since the amendments were permitted the 3-year moving period has been changed to a 10-year moving period.
This gives the farmers an edge at the present time, by taking advantage of the higher prices of 1948, 1949, 1950 and 1951. The basic principles, however, have not been changed. In view of the present trend of prices for agricultural commodities, which are continually declining, it very simply means that the base would be lowered, through the years, merely slower than the base price would have been lowered in a 3-year period.
Furthermore, this would mean that in the event of more prosperous times for our economy, if some unforeseen circumstances may develop whereby our agricultural industry is unable to keep pace with other industries, then the delays under this system would make things so slow that there literally would be no support or help for the farm industry in keeping pace with other industries.
This bill perhaps was not meant to be related to the economy of other industries. It does not directly tie in the agricultural industry with parity or cost of production. Although cost of production is mentioned in the preamble, it is in no way definitely incorporated in the bill itself. The minister has told us that the
agricultural stabilization board shall keep the cost of production in mind in arriving at the prescribed price, but he has also let it be known that the board shall keep at least 10 other factors in mind when arriving at the prescribed price for any commodity.
I cannot help but wonder just how literally we can take his statements, even with respect to the cost of production. On December 14 as found at page 2397 of Hansard, he had this to say about the factors which would be involved.
(a) estimated cost of production on the average efficient farm;
The question immediately arises as to what he considers to be the average efficient farm, its size, type and all the other factors which make up such a farm. Is the minister going to take the top efficient farm in any given area and then use that figure in establishing the prescribed price?
We all know there is a great difference between the sizes, types, conditions, etc. of
Agricultural Products-Price Stabilization the farms in this country. We have almost as many varieties as farms. If only the most efficient units are used then we begin to deal with an ideal situation. We then develop a hypothetical case rather than one which actually exists in Canada. Unless the minister and the stabilization board are prepared to take all the farms into consideration in all the different regions, then we will start out on the wrong foot from the very beginning. We will deal with the situation we would like to see throughout this country rather than the one we actually have.
Through his scientific and technical knowledge and through automation I am of the opinion that the farmer of Canada is capable of being the most efficient farmer in the world today. I believe that man for man he could produce more units of farm produce than any other farmer in the world, yet financially the entire industry is in jeopardy. The relation between the costs of commodities and services used by the farmers and the prices for farm produce has been more unfair only in the period from 1931 to 1935. If we are going to solve the agricultural problem we will have to look at it as it actually exists and take it from there rather than taking it from the standpoint of what we would like to see.
The minister went on that day to discuss other factors, as follows:
(b) supply of commodity;
(c) prospective domestic and export outlets for it;
This in itself boils down to nothing more than a straight supply and demand proposition. If a fear of surpluses should develop with respect to any commodity in any given period, then the prices will be cut to a lower level. If the supply and demand factors are given a considerable amount of prominence the whole bill becomes nothing more than a policy of dog eat dog and the devil take the hindmost.
We hear a lot today about there being too many farmers, and that the less efficient farmer should be forced off the land. We hear that from people who I believe should know better; and if they do not know any better I believe they should keep their mouths shut. That is as negative an approach as one could possibly take toward solving the farm problem.
It was with a great deal of concern that I listened to the Minister of Labour announce a few days ago that we had over 750,000 people registered with the national employment service. He stated that he may be in a position some time after January 15 to give us the figures of those who have drawn all their insurance and who today
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Agricultural Products-Price Stabilization have no income, a number which I believe is considerable. To force more people off the farms would do nothing but serve to increase the ranks of the employed.
Then what are you going to do? Are you going to open up soup kitchens, as you did in the thirties? Are you going to have the police beat some of these fellows over the head with clubs when four or five walk down the street together looking for jobs, as was claimed? Or are you going to give the men $5 a month to go to work for a farmer, and give the farmer $5 a month to keep the man, as was done somewhere around 1935?
Subtopic: MEASURE TO PROVIDE GUARANTEED PRICES FOR CERTAIN COMMODITIES, ETC.