Mr. W. M. Howe (Wellinglon-Huron):
Mr. Speaker, during this debate we have heard many promises being made today and we heard the words "death warrant" used a couple of times. We in this party are very familiar with such statements because I think we remember 'Some very famous ones that were made before June 10, and some that were ready to be published afterwards. Representing, as I do, parts of two of the wealthiest counties of the province of Ontario, and having very many sound and successful farmers in that riding, and realizing that the economies of most of the towns and villages in that riding are dependent for the buoyancy of their incomes upon the farmer, I feel I should say a few words on this bill. It is a measure to provide for the stabilization of the prices of agricultural products.
I feel that this is one of the most forwardlooking, one of the most progressive pieces of legislation with regard to agriculture that has been introduced in this house for many years. I hope it will be passed before too long so that the farmers of this country will profit from it in the very near future. To do as the amendment suggests, that is to send the measure to the committee on agriculture and colonization, would result in a great deal of delay; in fact, this bill might not even be passed during this session of parliament.
For many years hon. members of this house have been asking that some concrete effort be made to bring the farmers' income into balance with that of people in other segments
[The Acting Speaker (Mr. Casselman) .1
of our economy. I might say that today we have heard a lot of discussion from representatives of the western provinces about how poorly the farmers out there have been treated. Representing a riding in central Ontario, I might say that the farmers of Ontario are sometimes very envious of the things that have been done for the farmers of western Canada. I might cite a few of them. There was the Prairie Farm Assistance Act which, according to the 1957-58 estimates, costs the taxpayers of this country approximately $539,479 for administration. Then, there is the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act, which costs $4,730,150, and another item for major irrigation and reclamation projects in western Canada, costing $7,340,500, as well as the amount set aside for guaranteed loans and cash advances on farm-stored grain.
According to the dominion bureau of statistics, the net income of farmers in Ontario dropped from $422.1 million in 1955 to $405.6 million in 1956, whereas the net farm income in the three prairie provinces increased in that year. However, in this bill we have an indication that the Conservative government is prepared to do something to help the agricultural economy, not just in the east, not just in the west, but throughout the entire length and breadth of this great country.
Several members of the opposition, including the hon. member for Melville (Mr. Gardiner) the hon. member for Meadow Lake (Mr. Harrison) and the hon. member for Rosthern (Mr. Tucker), have tried to give the impression that this bill does not contain any new legislation but that practically all the items are the same as those to be found in the Agricultural Prices Support Act as passed in 1944. There are, however, many differences in this bill, such as the naming of an advisory committee composed of farmers and representatives of farming organizations. There are certain named commodities that will be brought immediately under the administration of this act. Rather than just one price being named and there are two, there is a definite time period in which these prices will remain in effect. The amount of money allocated to this board to be used in this program has been increased from $200 million to $250 million. So we see, Mr. Speaker, there are many differences in this legislation which will make it more effective.
Also as a consideration in regard to this act we have a new government, a new Prime Minister (Mr. Diefenbaker) and in the Department of Agriculture we have a new minister who has indicated by his actions and interest in the affairs of agriculture that he is not only interested in the question of fulfilling election promises-as has been indicated so many times in this house-but
he realizes and appreciates the plight that agriculture is in today and is ready and willing to do something about it.
We have already had an indication of this in many phases of our agricultural economy. We have had the legislation to provide noninterest cash advances to western farmers, and action in the field of poultry and turkeys, an industry which has been operating at a loss for several years due to the tremendous importation of these products from the United States. In fact I still remember that last year when the hon. member for Brant-Haldimand (Mr. Charlton) brought to the attention of the former minister of agriculture the fact that United States turkeys were being brought into Canada and sold as Canadian turkeys in plastic bags, the minister indicated that he had no knowledge that there was any such scheme and nothing was done about it. However, when this situation was brought to the attention of the minister of today it was not long before these products were brought under the import-export act with the result that this year our poultry and turkey producers did not have to operate under such unfair competition. The same action was taken with regard to powdered skim milk, butter, oil and sugar beets.
We now have a royal commission on price spreads, something that has been asked for for many years and the minister has indicated that this government is giving definite consideration to the question of crop insurance, a measure that is definitely needed on a country-wide basis. It is quite apparent that the minister is doing everything in his power to assist agriculture.
Since I came into this house in 1953 hon. members from every part of the house, including the Liberal party, indicated in their speeches that something must be done to assist agriculture. All of our farm organizations presented briefs indicating that although farm prices in 1956 were 6 per cent lower than in 1949 the costs of goods and services the farmer buys had increased by 20 per cent, and that in a period of 10 years the number of those engaged in agriculture had dropped by 24 per cent. Last year when there was an extended debate on this question and a multitude of figures were produced to prove to the government the farmers from coast to coast felt keenly that on the average their returns had become badly out of balance with those of other major groups in the nation, the former minister of agriculture had this to say, and I will quote from page 3346 of Hansard, of April 9, 1957:
The products of people working in industry are sold to farmers. Therefore I am not going to criticize the fact that income from industry is 96698-230i
Agricultural Products-Price Stabilization high in this country at the present time. I am going to say only that all of the conditions existing in this country at the present time make it natural that the income from industry should he high. If the farmer does not get back a full share of that income this year that is no reason why he should not get a very considerable part of it over the next 10 years. Everyone who looks into the situation, including the Gordon commission, says we are going to have prosperous conditions ahead; we are going to have more and more development of industry; we are going to have more people going in to the back sections of our country and digging up the mineral wealth of those areas and bringing it into the settled areas to be developed. So long as that continues we shall have continued fairly good conditions among the farmers of this country.
If I remember correctly, he castigated us for making such a bad picture of agriculture that the young men of Canada would not go into farming. Will the farmers of Canada have to wait another ten years in order that they may get a fair share of the national income? No, Mr. Speaker. On June 10 last year they registered a protest against the Liberal government for their indifference to the plight of the farmer. Last spring the farmers of Canada were definitely neglected when the budget came down. In spite of all the briefs presented by farm organizations, and in spite of all the pleas and requests by hon. members on all sides of the house that something should be done, the only reference made to agriculture by Mr. Harris in his budget speech is found on page 2214 of Hansard of March 14, 1957, and which reads as follows:
Farmers also shared In this general Improvement. Better than average grain crops and greater sales and deliveries have increased western cash income. Elsewhere the decline in prices has been halted and there has been some improvement in the prices of a number of farm products. If nature is kind and markets remain as good in 1957, per capita farm incomes could equal, or surpass, the all time record of 1951.
Probably this budget was brought down after that famous report we saw the other day. At any rate, very little was done for the farmers in that budget of 1957. In fact, Hon. Mr. Harris, who is not with us now, in one of the postmortems after the election of June 10 of last year admitted that his defeat, as well as that of many of the other members of the former Liberal government, was due to the fact that they did not have a more realistic program for the farmers of Canada.
People have been educated that they should expect to get cheap food. They do not complain about a rise in the cost of cars, television sets or appliances for homes. But let the price of milk, butter, eggs, poultry or any other agricultural products increase and there is a terrific protest.
No part of our economy can continue to live at a high rate and another live in depressed circumstances. The great wealth of
3638 HOUSE OF
Agricultural Products-Price Stabilization our country lies in the top six inches of the soil. If those who make a living from the top six inches do not get a fair return for their labours, then it is not too long before other segments of our economy suffer.
Even though my riding as I have indicated already in my speech, is one of the best agricultural districts in Canada, as I drive up and down the highways and byways what do I find? I find that practically every farmer could spend a great deal of money, not just in buying new machinery, not just in making his home more modern but in ordinary maintenance such as fences, improving and repairing barns and buildings and in repairs to his machinery; but in many cases these have been neglected simply because the farmer in the last few years could not see his way clear to do the necessary repairs.
For years we in the opposition party told the Liberal government that if they did not take more interest in and give more assistance to agriculture the depressed condition of that industry would have a serious effect on the economy of our entire country.
We have heard a great deal in recent weeks about the increase in unemployment brought on mainly because many of our people have not had the funds with which to buy the products of our industry. Had a program such as is indicated in this bill been negotiated several years ago the farmers of our country would today be enjoying the prosperity that had been prevalent in every other section of our economy. There would not have been so many farmers leaving the farms, there would not be so many farms for sale today and there would not be so many farmers displacing other people and taking jobs in industry to get the ready cash to keep up their interest payments and taxes.
As regards the criticism that has been levelled at this legislation by the C.C.F. and the Social Credit parties in this house that this legislation should contain some fixed formula for setting the prices of agricultural commodities, this bill was presented after many months of consideration of all the factors involved by our government which felt that a flexible program was better than a fixed formula. We have had many indications from those who have used these formulae that they are not satisfactory, and I should like to quote from the Searle Grain report of Wednesday, January 8, under the heading: "Rigid Price Support Formulas- What Others have Found" indicating some conclusions reached in the United Kingdom:
In the United Kingdom during 1956, the ministry of agriculture, working closely with the main farm organization in that country, reviewed the whole matter of long-term assurances for the agricultural
industry with a view to seeing where they could be made more effective than those which had been provided for in the agriculture act of 1947. Several of the more important conclusions reached were as follows: namely, that it would be necessary to continue the annual review determinations on broadly the previous lines in order that account be taken of numerous changing factors, many of which varied from year to year as did their relative importance. Particularly interesting was the conclusion that the possibility of adjusting guaranteed prices in accordance with a set formula which provided for these variable factors was not considered feasible. The main difficulty in trying to construct a formula for these purposes was that if it were to take into account the many relevant factors it would become too complex to be readily understood or to be operated satisfactorily. Furthermore, it was stated, some of the factors such as those relating to the market could not be put into figures: and even where figures were available they were not considered to be sufficiently firm to stand up to the strain of use in a formula.
Further on in the same article a reference is made to the United States experience, and I quote:
Closer to home, in the United States, there has been growing uneasiness about the farm program in general and the parity price support system in particular. Here, confirming the oft expressed views of the secretary of agriculture, the largest United States farm organization, the American farm bureau federation, recently left no doubt whatever that, in the opinion of that body, the present system has been found wanting and that a new approach is required. While no detailed plan for setting support levels was adopted, the bureau declared that these levels should not be based on "arbitrary formulas" neither should levels of support be automatically increased when supplies had been reduced. Of particular interest was a proposal, that the support level might be set at 90 per cent of the preceding 3-year average market price of each type of crop, it being assumed that market prices would seek their own level, with government supports geared to stay 10 per cent below the average of the previous three years. This plan, it will be noted, is almost identical with that being introduced by the Canadian government at the present time, although as a result of strong representations, the term used for averaging prices is now likely to be extended from 3 to 10 years. It should also be noted that if this American farm bureau proposal were to be adopted it would automatically eliminate parity as a fair yardstick for pegging the level at which the United States supports farm prices and it would bring to an end the high subsidies that have encouraged over-production. These views, of course, represent a very definite change of thought on the part of a large number of American farmers and they have resulted from a long and disappointing experience with rigid parity support prices.
It might also be interresting to note just what it costs the United States with regard to this type of program. An article entitled "Price Supports and Elder Benson" appeared in the Globe and Mail of January 2, 1958, in which the writer says:
Ezra Taft Benson, a Mormon elder, became United States secretary of agriculture about five
Agricultural Products-Price Stabilization
years ago, In 1952 the United States department of agriculture had 63,000 full-time employees and an annual budget of $1.1 billion.
The article goes on to say:
In 1957, the USDA had 15,000 more full-time employees than in 1952, besides some 90,000 parttime employees in farm-program committees. The 1957 budget was $5 billion-more than the total expenditures for health, welfare and education. The department has $9 billion tied up in price support loans and inventories. Charges for storage are a cozy item-a little over $11 a second on a 24-hour basis including Sundays and holidays. Among other activities the department has been paying farmers to take land out of production and to plough under crops already growing.
Mr. Speaker, this bill has been amended after considerable discussion, which indicates that the minister is ready and willing to make the measure acceptable to the agricultural industry in Canada. Therefore, I do feel that the legislation which has been introduced is sound, logical and flexible, and that no good purpose will be served by sending it to the committee on agriculture and colonization where only the factors already discussed could be introduced.
I feel also that though this legislation cannot be expected to alleviate conditions which have been allowed to drift to such a low level through the indifference and lack of planning on the part of the Liberal government over the last number of years, it will do more for the farming economy directly, and for the entire economy of our country indirectly, than any other legislation that has been brought before this house for many years.
Subtopic: MEASURE TO PROVIDE GUARANTEED PRICES FOR CERTAIN COMMODITIES, ETC.