Mr. George A. Drew (Leader of the Opposition):
Mr. Speaker, since this bill first came before the house a number of things have occurred which have some bearing on the effect of the bill itself, if and when it becomes law. The Prime Minister (Mr. St. Laurent), in words that have already been referred to today, indicated that any controls which might be considered or introduced by the government would be dealt with under this act. Having regard to what has occurred since the bill was first introduced and the last discussion took place, it does seem to me that there are certain considerations which should be in the minds of members at this time and which, even at this stage of the bill, should be presented to the government as reasons for a clearer statement of government intention.
We have been told that it is the intention of the government not to introduce price or similar controls at this time. In fact less than a week ago the Prime Minister made a speech in which it was indicated that the government would be unlikely to introduce controls of that nature unless we were in something approaching an all-out war. Since that time we have had before us the defence production bill, and we have heard certain discussions of that bill which certainly gives most sweeping powers to the government over various commodities, supplies and requirements of the people which do affect the cost of living.
In discussing this subject again today I wish to emphasize one fact. In advocating the adoption of some measure of control which will meet the immediate inflationary pressures I do so in the belief that we should
Emergency Powers Act do all we can in this country to preserve a free economy. I have sought to make it clear that I am convinced that unless something is done to restrain the mounting spiral of inflation there will be a diminishing measure of confidence in the minds of the people of Canada in the ordinary operation of that free economy.
I have said on an earlier occasion, and I repeat today, that the sooner appropriate steps are taken to exercise that measure of control which is needed to balance the sudden and unusual inflationary pressures created by government spending, the sooner we may hope to return to a really free economy. It seems to me that to those who believe in a free economy the proposition before us is simple.
A free economy must depend upon free production and free distribution. Where there is free production and competition in production, which through skill and design and efficiency bring about a reduction in cost, then that competition in itself can reduce the ultimate price of the article. It is only
where there is a possibility of reduction in cost by competition, and competition within a free economy, that there will be offered any measure of protection to the general public.
However, once there is a broad and substantial restriction of free production I submit it is perfectly clear that you cannot have free and unrestrained distribution unless there is a large measure of danger that the public will pay the price of quick and easy speculation in those articles which are then in short supply.
Those who listened to an interview over the radio last night with the Minister of Trade and Commerce (Mr. Howe) heard this very point mentioned. He pointed out that at the present time there is a serious shortage of a number of basic commodities and important supplies. He pointed out the basic consideration that should be in the mind of everyone discussing this subject at this time -the abnormal demands of the government for all kinds of supplies for defence equipment, limiting the amount of those supplies available for ordinary civilian consumption, and therefore creating the most inflationary kind of pressure that there can be.
It is in the presence of such a situation that we see in the last month a jump in the cost of living to the highest point in Canadian history, and we realize today that the Canadian dollar is only a fifty-seven cent dollar based on its value ten years ago. What is more, we know that the food dollar, which is the most important dollar in every household, is today well below fifty cents. That is the situation with which we are
950 HOUSE OF
Emergency Powers Act confronted, and it is to meet it that I have urged in this house that the government, supporting the proposition that a free economy is what we wish to preserve, should maintain confidence in that free system by balancing in some way the immense pressures that have already been created and the far greater pressures that are going to come within the next few months. To use a colloquial expression, but one that everyone understands and will come to understand in relation to this subject, we haven't seen anything yet. It is the immense expenditure contemplated by the defence production bill now before the house that is going to create inflationary pressures far beyond anything we have yet known.
We have sought some information from the government as to positive steps that might be taken by them under this bill. Before we pass the bill I would point out that in presenting this argument I was careful to emphasize my own belief that we should not simply adopt measures that had been tried once before. I suggested rather that, with all the accumulated skill built up as a result of the administration of other control measures, there should be devised in Canada the most flexible and most effective type of control, the type of control best designed to preserve our free economy. I used the expression that I thought it was possible for the Canadian people, young and vigorous as they are, to devise a system of control which will meet the emergency pressures until civilian and military production going side by side are capable of meeting the demands in both fields.
In bringing this subject before the house again at this stage of the discussion, I wish to say that there is no single country in the world, including the United States, which can hope to stem inflation as well as we can in Canada. I make that statement because there is no country in the world today which has the opportunity and the ability to expand its production in the way we can to meet both civilian and defence requirements. The moment that we can meet both civilian and defence requirements in any line of production, then the need for control over that particular article or commodity disappears.
It is while there is a short supply that the need exists, and the shorter the supply of any article as a result of defence spending the greater the inflationary pressure on that particular article or commodity. I was careful to point out that we were simply asking that, with all the experience that has been gained, this government introduce the most flexible and effective method of controls which would meet the situation.
It will be recalled, Mr. Speaker, that when I urged that the house be informed as to anything that was contemplated by the government under this measure to deal with this subject, we were told that the government had nothing to place before us. For that reason I was interested to learn that the Minister of Trade and Commerce was prepared to make a statement on this subject last night. As reported by the Canadian Press, the Minister of Trade and Commerce last night informed the people of Canada over a national radio network that control of profit margins is being considered by the government to meet the situation which I am now discussing. In view of the requests we have made in the house, I suggest that the appropriate place for such information to be conveyed is in the House of Commons where we are discussing this subject.
In the Canadian Press report of the statement by the Minister of Trade and Commerce last night, as contained in today's Globe and Mail, I find these words under dateline of March 5:
Trade Minister Howe said tonight the government, still opposed to a general price freeze, is considering commodity margin of profit control as one of several weapons to fight price inflation. "We'll have something to say on that before many weeks go by" . . .
This subject, Mr. Speaker, has been under consideration for many months. It was discussed in the House of Commons last September. At that time I introduced an amendment to the motion for the adoption of the address in reply to the speech from the throne expressing regret that the government had not taken appropriate steps to deal with inflation and the cost of living. The subject was then discussed in some detail, and obviously the government has had it under consideration all this time. I suggest that before the house gives third reading to the bill, without debating the contents of the bill which has now been dealt with so far as the principle is concerned on second reading and so far as detail is concerned in committee, the house should be informed exactly what the government intends to put into operation when the bill becomes law. If the government has in mind the introduction of control of profit margins, then may I urge upon the Prime Minister the desirability of the people's representatives in the House of Commons being informed today just what the plans are which were referred to last night by the Minister of Trade and Commerce.
There is one more reason why we should be informed, and why the people of Canada should be informed, through the press and over the radio, what the plans are. The
Minister of Trade and Commerce, no matter what his views may be on other subjects, is not so innocent of ordinary practices in this country to be in any doubt as to what will happen if it is believed there is going to be control of profits and nothing is done. He has already indicated what happens in cases of that kind, and we would assume, in view of his association with price controls on earlier occasions, that he would speak with some knowledge on this subject. He pointed out that one of the difficulties in dealing with controls at this stage is that the government did not move in as they did when price controls were introduced before. He explained that the element of surprise was lacking, and for that reason he said adjustments had already been made to meet the situation. Then, he used those words which the house is not likely to forget, "They are all set."
If the people to whom the minister was referring on that occasion were set, they are going to take care that they are even more set if they think controls over profits are to be introduced. This is simply another inflationary pressure created by the government itself. The minister, who seems to have such an influence over most departments of government, has said that within a couple of weeks we may expect further information. I suggest that the time for that information to be received by this house is now, and before this bill receives third reading.
There is one other consideration that should be in the minds of the members in dealing with this subject. The Prime Minister indicated some of the reasons why this bill was being drawn in such general terms. He also indicated that he thought there should be some limitation on the scope of the bill when it becomes law, because he believed it was desirable to impress upon the people of Canada the fact that we are not in a period of war; that we are in fact striving for peace, and that is the idea that should be emphasized in the public mind. I believe there was general agreement with that proposition. What was emphasized in relation to that subject, however, was the fact that there is a long period of emergency ahead of us, and that it would be desirable to retain as much as possible of our ordinary peacetime atmosphere and ordinary peacetime arrangements as we would be able to carry forward over an extended period with as little strain as possible upon our economy and upon our people. It is for that reason that concern should be felt about wide powers of this kind unless the full intention of the government under those powers is indicated to members of parliament.
Emergency Powers Act
In regard to the sweeping nature of the powers, the Prime Minister had something to say which I thought did not receive sufficient attention at the time, and which should be in the minds of the members before this bill becomes law. Referring to the reason for the powers which, with few exceptions, are as wide as the powers under the War Measures Act, the Prime Minister had this to say, as reported at page 807 of Hansard for March 1:
With respect to the extent of the powers, it would be a much easier thing to do if we could come here and say: This is what is going to have to be done and nothing more is required.
A little later on the same page he had this to say:
But with the possibility of various things that we just cannot determine at this time having to be done, in order to meet the changing conditions, I suggest that the powers have to be drawn in fairly broad terms. We did not want them any broader than the Department of Justice told us was enough. But what they say is this: These things mean
restrictions on some individuals and they are subject to contestation before the courts. It is therefore important to have the language so broad that the courts will not say: "You have gone beyond what
parliament authorized you to do."
Parliament, Mr. Speaker, has not authorized the government to do anything, because we have not been told what the government intends to do. Therefore, this would be an utterly meaningless statement unless it were intended by the wording of this bill that the government, by order in council, from time to time may do things far beyond anything that has been suggested in this chamber during the discussion of the bill. We have asked the government to tell us a single thing they intend to do, and they have not told us one thing. Therefore the suggestion that parliament is going to say what the government can do, and that the government is only going to do what parliament has said it can do, is meaningless and will be misleading to the people of this country if they accept it as the limitation under which the government legislates by order in council within the terms of this bill when it becomes law. It is for that reason, Mr. Speaker, I repeat my request that the Prime Minister inform us fully as to what these controls of the profit margin are to which the Minister of Trade and Commerce has referred, so that there may not be further inflation by procrastination; further inflation by invitation; further inflation simply because someone is trying to get set. In using those expressions I am only using the words that have been employed by the Minister of Trade and Commerce, who has had wide experience in dealing with the subject matter that might be contemplated by this bill.
952 HOUSE OF
Emergency Powers Act
I know, sir, that the Prime Minister, in his own mind, would have no thought that we should abandon our democratic parliamentary procedure. He has had too long and too intimate an experience with the profession with which he has been so prominently associated in distinguished capacities to be willing to contemplate a situation of that kind. But may I point out to him that the pages of history all too frequently record cases in which freedom was surrendered in the name of efficiency in the face of an emergency. Over and over again throughout history there have been tragic examples of free legislative bodies handing over their authority to meet an emergency and then not being able to recapture that authority at some future time when those with a different point of view were unwilling to surrender those powers.
To the statement that I have just made the Prime Minister can answer that this bill will terminate next year. In that respect may I point out, Mr. Speaker, that if in the present emergency this bill is necessary, then it will be necessary next year to renew the measure, or an even stronger one, because we are passing a complementary measure, the Defence Production Act, which is to continue for five years and which obviously will go in double harness with this bill now before us. Therefore unless the government is going to introduce or bring into effect by proclamation a still stronger bill, this legislation will continue for some years, and there may come a time when, through pressures, through force of circumstances that we cannot now envisage, a government of another day might be unwilling to abandon the powers so obtained.
The Prime Minister may also say: This is in the hands of parliament. In answer I would say that we have not seen too much evidence, during this session or preceding ones, that there is that measure of independent expression of opinion by the large number of supporters of the government in this house which would suggest to those who are concerned about the trend we now see that we might hope that within this house there would be a vote which would place any effective restraint upon a government which commanded a majority of that kind. Unless we return to established and tested principles of parliamentary democracy we may in fact at this hour be in the twilight of freedom here in Canada, no matter how much we believe in freedom itself. We Canadians can pay the penalty of surrender just as other people have paid the penalty of surrender of those principles which protected the freedom in which they believed.
I suggest, sir, that at this time the Prime Minister should inform us as to the subject matter of the statement made by the Minister of Trade and Commerce last night; and also that at this stage the Prime Minister should give us sufficient indication of what is intended so that we who represent the people in all parts of Canada may know in fact what it is that parliament is really being asked to do and what powers we are in fact conferring upon this government.
Subtopic: PROVISION FOR ORDERS AND REGULATIONS DEEMED ADVISABLE FOR NATIONAL DEFENCE AND SECURITY