Thomas Alexander Crerar
Hon. T. A. CRERAR (Marquette):
Mr. Speaker, the occasion of the Budget speech gives to the House and the country the opportunity to review the state of financial health of the nation. A Budget speech, because of what it may contain, is always of interest at any time; but on an occasion such as the present, when the country has passed through four or five years of war that was a new experience for us; when that war has added greatly to our debt; when it has disturbed our economic conditions as they have never been disturbed before;-a Budget under such circumstances as these, is a matter of interest, and profound interest, to the people of any country, and particularly to the people5 of Canada.
Before I discuss the proposals contained in the Budget delivered by my hon. friend the Minister of Finance (Sir Henry Drayton) the other day, I wish to refer to one or two statements made by my hon. friend from Frontenac (Mr. Edwards) and, I think, by the hon. member for Dundas (Mr. Casselman) in his speech the other evening. These hon. gentlemen directed some criticism against my administration of the Department of Agriculture when I was a member of the Government. Their criticism was that I had failed in my duty to the agricultural people of Canada, in that I had permitted their products to be sold in the markets of the world, to the Allies at prices greatly below their actual value; and they therefore chided me and held me up to reproach because that condition had existed. Well, I bear in mind that my
hon. friends supported the policy of that time because it was the policy of the Government of the day and not of the Minister of Agriculture. They supported it in the past, and it is rather a late occasion now on which to rake up criticism of this kind. What were the facts that faced the country under those conditions of war? They were such that there were no free markets -for our products. The Allied countries of Europe, as every one in the House and out of it knows, were buying their requirements through one or two agencies who controlled the shipping on the high seas and absolutely controlled the prices that producers in either Canada or the United States could get for their products. Under those circumstances, therefore, there was no other course for the Government of the day to follow than to make the best arrangements possible with the buyers in Europe; and I am free to confess that, in my opinion, in the great majority of cases the Allied purchasing agents, wielding the power they possessed through unified control in buying, dealt fairly generously with the producers on the North American continent.
I desire now to deal with the Budget statement delivered by the Minister of Finance the other day, and I am bound to say that my hon. friend, in the statement he has presented to the House this year, has fallen far short of the standard he set in his Budget speech of a year ago. At that time his speech was clear and courageous; it contained a note of courage and encouragement to the country. On the present occasion, however; these qualities are entirely lacking. A year ago my hon. friend made this declaration:
The duty to-day is not only to carry on the government of the country without any additions to the debt, but, on the other hand, to promote measures which will reduce the nation's obligations.
Now, that was a sound declaration of policy at that time. It contained two things in particular: First, the view that there should be no increase in the debt, and, second, that steps should be taken to reduce the nation's obligations. But what do we find in the present Budget speech? Do we find that ideal carried out by my hon. friend? Not at all. We find, on the contrary, that our debt has increased by over $100,000,000, and we find, as I shall show presently, absolutely not one word by way of provision for the future as to how we shall care for our heavy commitments that fall due, within the next few years. Now, in this statement my hon. friend
figures out a surplus. One would almost imagine that this Budget was the precursor of an election,-and I am not at all certain but that the Government, in the rather uncertain times that lie ahead of them, are making a.virtue of necessity and have dressed up their Budget proposals so that they will have the finest possible appearance to the country. What does my hon. friend claim? He claims a surplus of $69,000,000, and other hon. gentlemen who sit behind him have played upon this string and have pointed out what a splendid thing it is to have a Government that can produce a surplus of $69,000,000 in a year like this. But how does my hon. friend reach his surplus? He has reached it by charging up to capital expenditure items, and very large items, that should be paid out of ordinary revenue. We are faced with our railway situation, which every one admits is serious. Now, one principle, absolutely, should Ibe laid down in the financing of this enterprise, and that is, that the deficits that occur in operation, and the sums that are necessary to meet interest on fixed charges, should be paid out of income and! not charged up to capital. That is only the position which any ordinary business house would take But does my hon. friend do that? Not at all. We find that the interest on these obligations and the operating deficits have been charged up; and after charging them up my hon. friend arrives at a surplus of $69,000,000. If these charges had been met, as they should have been met, and would have been met by a courageous government, there would have been no surplus, and the facts would have been placed frankly before the people that our income last year did not meet our expenditure.
Have we any hope of improvement for the future? My hon. friend is budgeting this year for a considerable sum of money. He hopes to raise the same revenue that he raised last year, namely, $432,000,000, and he details the items. He speaks of estimated consolidated revenue expenditure $343,000,000-I am giving round figures-estimated capital expenditure $27,000,000; estimated demobilization expenditure $7,000,000-a total of $378,000,000. He sets that down as the amount that should be paid out of current revenue, but he goes on further and he has an item of $50,000,000 for the Canadian Northern railway, $89,000,000 for the Grand Trunk railway, and $26,000,000 for the Grand Trunk Pacific railway. Some of these charges in respect of the railways are of
the nature of capital improvements and therefore could properly (be charged to capital; but many of them-I venture to say half of them although the House has not the detailed information from my hon. friend-are charges to meet interest on investments, or to pay operating deficits; and to that extent the statement is not a sound statement to place before the country. My hon. friend practically makes that admission a little later in his Budget speech, and I submit that his statement of our national finances is not such a statement as should be placed before the people at this time. If there ever was a time in the history of Canada when Parliament and the Government should deal frankly with the country in respect to the question of expenditures and revenues it is now, because only by sustaining the courage and receiving the support of our people throughout the country can we hope to pass through the difficult times that lie ahead of us.
And what is the prospect for the coming year? My hon. friend has estimated a revenue of $135,000,000 from customs against $165,000,000 a year ago, a decrease of $30,000,000. But what are the facts as far as the months of March and April are concerned? The month of March, it is true, was in the last fiscal year, but it gives an indication of what we may expect in the few months that are immediately ahead of us. The customs revenue in March declined over $10,000,000 as against March a year ago and the customs revenue in April last declined over $7,000,000, as compared with April a year ago. There is $7,000,000 gone in one month of the $30,000,000 reduction which my hon. friend has provided for. And the same thing will apply to other sources of revenue. There is bound to be shrinkage in our income, and the Government has made absolutely no provision to meet it. They are going along making extravagant expenditure without any regard for the future; and I am afraid that when we come to the end of the present financial year, my hon. friend will have to come to this House with a deficit unless he can improve his book-keeping methods to a greater extent than he has done in the year that has gone past.
But there is one other criticism I wish to offer my hon. friend: He has made no provision whatever-indeed there is no reference whatever in the Budget speech to the matter-for the needs of the future immediately ahead of us. And what are
Subtopic: DEBATE CONTINUED ON THE ANNUAL STATEMENT PRESENTED BY THE MINISTER OF FINANCE