James Lorimer Ilsley (Minister of Finance and Receiver General)
Hon. J. L. ILSLEY (Minister of Finance):
Mr. Speaker, I was asked two or three days ago to make a statement about meat rationing in the light of the discussion with the representatives of the meat dealers who were here this \veek.
A meeting was held on Wednesday between officials of the wartime prices and trade board and a delegation representing the meat dealers' division of the Retail Merchants' Association of Canada. In the course of these meetings the members of the retailers' delegation adopted a resolution requesting the immediate suspension of meat rationing in favour of a plan to requisition the required percentage of Canada's productive capacity in meat and meat products sufficient to enable the government to meet its commitments to the United Kingdom and liberated Europe, permitting the balance to be distributed through the
regular channels of trade, subject only to the provision that the dominion government, through the wartime prices and trade board, use the board's existing facilities to ensure equitable distribution.
The resolution went on to request that this plan be tested out for the remainder of this calendar year and if it failed to function satisfactorily, the retail merchants' association offered its further cooperation in endeavouring to work out some other plan that would achieve the objective of both meeting our overseas commitments and ensuring equitable distribution to Canadian consumers.
The delegation of retailers made it quite clear that they were opposed to consumer rationing in any form. Without prejudice to their main recommendation, however, they also made a number of suggestions with respect to technical details of the rationing system.
The very sincere representations which were made by this group have received careful consideration. Hon. members will appreciate, however, that their main recommendation is not a new one, and in this connection I would refer to the statement which I made to the house on September 13, appearing on pages 140 and 141 of Hansard. As I said at that time, no one welcomes rationing, neither the officials who have to administer it nor the consumer, nor the industry, nor the trade. Before rationing was decided upon, both the officials of the wartime prices and trade board and the members of the government gave most careful and prolonged consideration to ways and means of achieving our objectives with the minimum of inconvenience to all concerned. Our dual objective is to reduce domestic consumption so that we may be able to provide the United Kingdom and liberated Europe with the meat which we contracted to supply and the additional amounts we undertook to endeavour to provide, and at the same time to ensure fair shares at fair prices to all Canadian consumers.
I do not want to repeat everything that I said here a week ago yesterday, but I should like to reemphasize the following points:
(a) Only meat originating in inspected plants can enter into interprovincial trade or be exported. It is meat from these inspected plants which supplies a large part of the necessary meat requirements of deficiency-producing areas such as the maritime provinces, the northern parts of Ontario and Quebec and British Columbia, and in addition, the larger metropolitan centres in Canada.
(b) The requisitioning of meats in sufficient quantity to fulfil overseas requirements would shorten the supplies, with the effect that areas of surplus production would have abundant
supplies, amply sufficient to meet the entire consumer demand, and the deficiency areas would go extremely short. Throughout these deficiency areas and large urban centres the serious maldistribution would breed 'black markets and lead to a breakdown of price controls.
(c) The meat trade is a highly complex organization with highly complex channels of distribution. The wartime prices and trade board has been able to devise no practical means other than rationing whereby meat could be directed through these complex channels in any way that would assure fair shares to retailers and to consumers in all parts of Canada.
Members of the retail meat dealers' delegation which made the above recommendation are reported to me to have said that they were prepared ''to take their chances on getting their fair share of meat. We are convinced that in fact each would not get his fair share, and we believe that in a very short time the dealers in the areas I have referred to would be demanding redress as they did late in 1942 and early in 1943 and as they were beginning to do in the spring of 1945 when temporary shortages began to appear in certain eastern cities.
If the retailers were the only persons who would suffer by such an experiment there might be something to be said in favour of trying it. But the real sufferers, the final victims of the maldistribution which we are convinced would occur, would not be the retailers but the families who depend upon them for supplies. The government do not consider that they would be justified in gambling where the stakes at issue are the essential food of hundreds of thousands of Canadian families.
The policy of the government, therefore, is that meat rationing will remain in effect until it becomes clear that we can fulfil both our overseas responsibilities and our responsibility to our own consumers without it.
Hon. members are also aware that apart from the principle of rationing, we have been receiving many representations respecting the details of the rationing system. I believe that most of these complaints are the result of unfamiliarity with the details of rationing which is inevitable during the first week or two of its operation. Already we are receiving evidence that a great part of this misunderstanding is disappearing, and that both consumers and the trade are rapidly adjusting themselves to the new situation.
On a number of points it is still too early to form a fair judgment as to whether complaints are simply due to unfamiliarity or
represent actual defects which should be corrected. During the next few weeks numerous conferences will be going on, with a view to smoothing out both the real and the apparent difficulties.
The wartime prices and trade board, however, has decided to make one immediate change, and it has to-day issued an order temporarily removing from the ration what are sometimes termed "edible butchers offals' and sometimes "fancy meats," that is, such 'terns as livers, hearts, kidneys and tongues. The reason for this temporary suspension is that these meats are relatively more perishable than others, and that there appears to be evidence that their sales have slowed down in some areas to a point where actual spoilage threatens to occur.
It is estimated that in a full year the quantity of these meats normally available for consumption in Canada is about 50 or 60 million pounds. The permanent removal of these from the ration would therefore mean that consumers would have available to them 20 or 25 million additional coupons with which they could purchase other meats, which would in turn reduce the quantities available for overseas shipment.
The board therefore proposes first to reexamine the practicability of putting these items back on the ration at a date, say, six or eight weeks hence, by which time everybody will be readily familiar with the rationing system, or if that seems impracticable the board will take some other appropriate step to keep over-all meat consumption within the target set. such as widening to two weeks the gap between coupon validity dates once every three or four months.
In the meantime, the meat board, under the Department of Agriculture, which handles all export commitments, will be authorized to requisition such additional quantities of edible offals as may be necessary to fill export demands as they arise.
The wartime prices and trade board realizes that the lifting of the ration on these items will probably result in considerable maldistribution of them in many centres. In order to meet this difficulty as far as possible, the board is directing all inspected plants to maintain pro rata equitable distribution of their supplies of such products as between secondary meat processors, public eating places, hospitals and institutions, and- retail outlets. It will be impossible to guarantee equitable distribution between areas and between retailers, but the board will endeavour to see that undue proportions do not go to secondary processors or hotels and restaurants. It will be understood, of course, that public eating places will still
be prohibited from serving liver, hearts, kidneys, tongues and the like on meatless days.
Another question was asked by the hon. member for Rosetown-Biggar (Mr. Coldwell) involving the presentation of certain statistics. I am afraid I shall not be able to make a complete presentation of those until Monday, but I intend to put them on record at that time.
With regard to the difficulties of the meat dealers, I may say in conclusion that the government has the greatest sympathy with the administrative embarrassment that the meat rationing system causes to members of this trade, and is willing to do anything within reason to help them meet their problems. But the considerations involved in meat rationing are so much broader and so much more important than this, that the decision to go on with it or to cease must be based on those broader considerations.
Subtopic: STATEMENT ON CONFERENCE BETWEEN OFFICIALS OF THE WARTIME PRICES AND TRADE BOARD AND MEAT DEALERS