Major James William Coldwell
Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)
Mr. M. J. Coldwell (Roselown-Biggar):
Mr. Speaker, like the hon. members who have preceded me, I regret that the agriculture committee is sitting at this hour, because of necessity many members who are interested in this problem and who represent wheat growing areas are attending that committee
and consequently are unable to be here. This problem is one of the most important that has come before the house, from the point of view of those who represent prairie constituencies.
I agree with what has been said by hon. members who have preceded me, and shall not repeat their argument that the farmers are entitled to more consideration in regard to initial price. All of us support the wheat board method of marketing, and I do not think there is a member from a prairie constituency who will take any other view. We want to see it continued, and our supporters want to see it continued. We believe it is the proper method of dealing with this particular matter.
I believe a vast majority of the producers would like to see all grains marketed through marketing boards which would be more representative of the producers than is the wheat board.
I want to say something this morning about the initial price. The bill leaves it to the governor in council to set the price. I quite agree with the statement that has been made that the initial price which is to be set is too low when we consider the contributions that the farmers have made over the past number of years, particularly during the war. I also want to express my regret, as I did when the minister made his announcement on May 30 as to the new United Kingdom agreement, that the agreement is not for a longer period of time and for an adequate price, as I think our producers expected it would be.
The hon. member who has just taken his seat (Mr. Fair) has made the point well that at the present time the cost of living is at the highest figure in the history of our country, and that this is reflected in the cost of production of farm products. The costs of production of all farm commodities have reached unprecedented heights. Consequently I think that the initial price this year should be different; and it should be set out in the bill now before us, instead of leaving the fixing of the price as provided in the bill. Of course no one can say what the price of wheat is going to be in the next year. The minister made an optimistic prediction the other day, but no one can tell. Indeed, the prognostications that economists, members of parliament and others have made over the past few years as to the price of wheat and the manner in which the economy would develop in the course of a year or two, have in many instances proven to be wrong. Consequently it is very difficult to make any prediction as to the future.
1 remember, when the British wheat contract was before the house on August 15, 1946, the conflicting views that were expressed sometimes by the same speakers.
I have Hansard for that date before me. I remember Mr. Bracken, then leader of the opposition, making various predictions. He said, for example, at page 4822 of Hansard for August 15, 1946:
. . . Britain is expected to pay more for our wheat two years from now than the world price when it may be lower, I say that as an insurance that this will be done, it is valueless.
Again on the same page he said very much the same thing:
This, Mr. Chairman, is the end of the government's policy of selling cheap wheat to the hungry nations of the world other than Britain, and it will be a handicap to us in trying to build up a market in all these other countries which so interpret this arrangement.
Again he said:
I predict that in two years, or a little more, this agreement will blow up, when the advantages to Britain are gone and when her own people will be wanting to get food at the world price, as they have always wanted to, and when the world price will probably be lower than it is now.
That merely illustrates how very difficult it is to predict what is going to happen over a period of time. I thought that perhaps the opposite might happen, and that wheat might go up. I certainly thought that the cost of production would rise. We have no guarantee now that the cost of production will fall. At that time I said, as reported at page 4825 of Hansard:
I believe the government would be well advised to consider this suggestion that in the event of the costs of production rising for the next few years, as they will do largely because of the government's failure to maintain the ceilings, any difference there may be between what the farmer receives for his wheat and the increased cost of production should be made up out of the consolidated revenue fund of Canada.
Let us remember that at that time, when we were discussing the price under the British contract, the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Gardiner) thought that the price then being negotiated was fair because he put the parity price at $1.41 or $1.42, and not $1.55, which some of us were suggesting. Today, with the cost of production where it is, if we are going to consider a parity price for wheat the initial price Should be very much higher than the $1.40 which the government proposes to set. Indeed the minister's own statement the other day, when he thought that the average price we might get this year for wheat might not be less than the price we got last year, would also warrant a higher initial price.
I regret very much indeed that the government set a lower initial price, because, as
Canadian Wheat Board Act was stated by the hon. member for Battle River (Mr. Fair) a few moments ago, that seemed to be an invitation to our customers to bid a lower price than we might otherwise get. That is one of the great difficulties of the bill and the whole arrangement. I am not going to try to estimate the wheat growers' losses; some have been suggested this morning, although you could argue that if Canadian wheat had been thrown on the market the United States price might have been considerably lower than it was, and therefore when we made a comparison the loss would not have been as great. .
Subtopic: AMENDMENTS RESPECTING CONTROL OF ELEVATORS AND RAILWAYS, ETC.