Henry Herbert Stevens (Minister of Trade and Commerce)
I was talking to the hon. gentleman behind you.
I was talking to the hon. gentleman behind you.
I am on the same
line of vision.
Hon. E.N. RHODES (Minister of Finance) moved the third reading of Bill No. 18, respecting banks and banking. Motion agreed to on division, and bill read the third time and passed.
Hon. R. C. MATTHEWS (Minister of National Revenue) moved the third reading of Bill No. 89, to amend and consolidate the Excise Act. Motion agreed to, and bill read the third time and passed.
Hon.E.N.RHODES (Minister of Finance) moved that the house go into committee on Bill No. 33, to amend the Quebec Savings Banks Act. Motion agreed to and the house went into committee, Mr. McDonald (Cape Breton South) in the chair. Section I agreed to. Bill reported, read the third time and passed.
Hon. W. A. GORDON (Minister of Immigration and Colonization) moved the second reading of Bill No. 94, to amend the Soldier Settlement Act. Motion agreed to and the house went into committee, Mr. MacDonald (Cape Breton South) in the chair. On section 1-Director to be a corporation sole and agent of crown in right of Canada.
I wonder if the minister would give us some information in regard to this matter. There does not seem to be a section with respect to the title on which we could discuss the general principles of the bill, but perhaps he will allow me to ask him some questions under this section. In moving the
Soldier Settlement Act
first reading of the bill the minister indicated that it was to be done at the request of various municipalities-rural municipalities-and inferentially we gathered that it was going to help the settler. I would ask him however wherein this act would do the one or the other. The municipality is not going to be put in the position, as we thought it was, of getting taxes from the government, but merely the land, which it does not want. Possibly the minister will reassure us by intimating that it is the intention of the government to pay the taxes, although it does not state so 'here.
The other point on which I should like some information is this. Under the third section, on the municipality instituting proceedings, which is rather an indefinite way of expressing it, the settler's contract of sale with the soldier settlement board is automatically rescinded. Is not that going to work a serious hardship on the soldier settler? The government have the right to-day to rescind the agreement upon non-payment; but they have recognized from time to time, and quite properly, that when times are very bad and farmers who own their land, free of any debt or mortgage, cannot make a living on it, then the settler certainly cannot make annual payments, and the government have made reasonable allowance in cases of that kind. They do not rescind so long as there is any reasonable hope of the man being able eventually to make good. Under section 3 however it is automatic; there is no preference. The very minute the municipality finds that its taxes are not paid, and takes legal proceedings-advertising and so forth-then it is automatically rescinded and the government cannot help themselves even if they wish to. I submit therefore that it is certainly going to work an increased hardship on the soldier settler. I do not think that the statement made on the first reading and sent out to the settlers concerned conveyed the true impression. I do not believe that the settlers gathered the impression that the moment their taxes were not paid they would lose their whole equity in the land. The government may have an equity of a couple of thousand dollars and the soldier an equity of a thousand dollars. I do not know whether the government will drop their $2,000; it is optional. They may pay the taxes, although it is not so stated here; but will not this automatically lead to the rescinding of a lot of agreements which to-day are behind but which the department, owing to economic conditions, are not enforcing?
There will be no rescission of contracts upon the passing of this legislation. If one refers to section 2 of the bill it will be tMr. NeUl.]
seen that it goes into operation from and after the first day of January, 1933, and the dominion government is taking care of unpaid taxes up to the end of 1932, the 1933 taxes of course not having come in yet.
With respect to the hon. member's other point, this bill places the soldier settler in exactly the same position as other settlers throughout the country. It will be remembered that this legislation has been in force now for some fifteen years and the position to-day is that there are settlers who have not paid their taxes, the same as any other settler, and in some instances it has cast a considerable burden upon the municipalities concerned.
The soldier settler, I am informed by the municipalities throughout the country, have perhaps done as well, as a municipal tax-paying body, as any other class of settlers in the dominion. For instance, in British Columbia the soldier settler has paid 40 per cent of his taxes for last year, as of May 15, 1934; in Alberta, 38-3 per cent; in Saskatchewan, 59-5 per cent; in Manitoba, 57-3 per cent; in Ontario, 70 per cent; in Quebec, 30-4 per cent; and in the maritimes 65-5 per cent, the average for the dominion being 51-6 per cent.
The^ representations are that there are municipalities which, by reason of the purchase of these lands by the crown, in the working out of the Soldier Settlement Act, and the automatic withdrawal from municipal taxation of such lands standing in the name of the crown as to legal title, only the interest of the settler being capable of assessment, have suffered considerably owing to the fact that they have not been able to assess the lands and to have recourse to them for municipal purposes. The intention of this legislation is to render those crown lands, in so far as recourse to the same for municipal purposes is concerned, liable to ordinary municipal taxation. The following section gives the settler some protection in cases where the lands are liable to be sold for taxes, and in fact are sold; the settler has then the right to redeem those lands within the period set out in the section. That is substantially what this legislation seeks to have prevail.
In cases where the municipal authorities take proceedings to sell the lands for arrears of taxes, this does not take away from the director the right to redeem those lands and if he considers the case a proper one, to make a new agreement with the settler. Of course that discretion has always been in the board and is not being taken away from the director
Soldier Settlement Act
by this legislation; but it places those lands, so far as taxes are concerned, in the same category as lands of any other settler. That is the effect of this legislation.
I am grateful to the minister for allowing this discussion on the principle of the bill. He says that this puts the soldier settlers into the same position as other settlers in Canada. That is partly my argument; that it is going to do them an injury because at present they are not in the same position as any other settlers. He says that this will ease the burden upon the municipalities, which burden has been considerable. I do not see how letting them take the land is going to lessen the burden on them as they inevitably will have to take the land for the reason that the soldier settlers will not be able to pay the taxes.
Not all of them.
If the government were to announce-and I think this is what the settlers desire in such cases-that it would pay the taxes and charge them up to the settlers, then the status quo would be maintained; that is to say, the municipalities would be relieved; the government equity would be preserved, because after all the taxes have to be paid, and the settler would not have his agreement automatically rescinded. It is the automatic feature of rescindment to which I object. The minister said that the proportion of taxes paid by soldier settlers varied from thirty to forty per cent, but the general payment all over Canada was 51-6 per cent. That shows the soldier settlers are not able to pay up in the same proportion as are the other people.
I said that the average payment over the dominion was 51-6 per cent.
For the soldiers?
The minister did not tell us that it was only for the soldiers generally; it is very small if it dropped down to 30 per cent.
He told us that in the succeeding clauses some protection was given to the soldiers, but- there is no more protection than we all have already. If we are able to pay up the back taxes, we get the land back.
The minister said that the government might redeem the lands and in that case they would make a new agreement. They cannot
do that because it would be only a reversion to the existing agreement. The government can at any time rescind and I give them credit that they have not enforced their rights unduly.
This is the situation I am trying to set forth. Let us take the average farmer-and heaven knows we have heard this time after time in the house-a man with a thoroughly equipped farm, improvements, stock and everything else, who does not owe any debt on the land, and who to-day cannot pay his debts, his taxes. There are members in the house who have said they cannot pay their taxes. The soldier settler is in a different position; he has a heavy mortgage due to the government hanging around his neck. That must be so because he would not be a soldier settler if he had paid up in full. All these soldier settlers have mortgages varying from 81,000 to 85,000 with amortization and interest charges due every year and they will be very much less able to pay their taxes than will the ordinary settler. Most of them having started more or less recently are not so well equipped as the ordinary settler. The government has recognized that fact and very properly so. I heard the minister say in the house last year that during the depression they would not unduly squeeze a man who was trying to make any kind of effort to make good. If he was not going on relief and was trying to do what he could to make good, they would not worry him about his payments in arrears, and I suppose during the depression these men have been carried along. Anyone who reads the provisions of clause 3 of this oill knows that the very moment the municipalities begin to put into force the law with regard to unpaid taxes, the agreement is automatically rescinded. The government has not any option; the agreement is rescinded forthwith, with all that it involves. It does not matter if the man has been carried along during these years; Now, either the municipality or the government takes possession and puts him out. In that way I maintain that conditions will be worse under this bill than they were before for the soldier settlers. After all, the main object is the benefit of the returned man and keeping him on the land. We have kept him on it now for five or six years of depression; another year might put him on his feet again, but under this bill the agreement will automatically be rescinded.