Mr. St. Laurent:
In this article that was not the view, though it may have been a mistaken view that the financial critic for the opposition was expressing at that time. It may have been a mistake in appraisal at that time, but the hon. member for Greenwood in his criticism of those measures when they were brought before the house said that they were too late and should have been adopted months previously. He said it was better late than never.
I am not suggesting this for the purpose of casting blame. I am bringing this before the house for the purpose of having everyone realize that we are dealing with a difficult problem about which any of us can make mistakes. I do not believe any of us can be sure in advance that any special line of conduct will not turn out to be mistaken. We have to do our best, and that is what we have been doing. We have been doing those things referred to, and we have also been endeavouring to keep down the civilian part of our budget.
In the broadcast I made in September I said that the government had made serious and constant efforts to keep down its own expenditures. In commenting on the broadcast the Montreal Gazette said that government savings had been like a drop in a bucket full of holes. Other critics are also fond of blaming the high cost of living on the alleged extravagance of the government, and its failure to keep its expenditures within bounds. In his budget speech last spring the Minister of Finance described the efforts that were being made to keep down expenditures. From my day to day contact with my colleagues I know that each one of them is watching the various phases of the administration of his department in an endeavour to keep down expenses. Hon. members know what efforts were made to reduce expenditures in the Post Office Department. They know the kind of reception those measures received throughout the country and in this house. While each one of my colleagues is giving careful consideration to some particular phase I felt that I should like to know how our expenditures on general services compared with the expenditures that were being made before the war. I asked the officials in the department of my colleague, the Minister of Finance (Mr. Abbott)-he was not here so I did not get his permission-to get figures and to give me a calculation, as accurately as they could, so that comparison might be made. It is exceedingly difficult to make a comparison, and I myself am not convinced that these figures will be convincing to others, but I wanted to know what they were. It is not easy to make comparisons because the services have been expanded; they have been modified; and of course a great many items of substantial expenditures have been added which were not there before.
I asked them to exclude, as not being at all comparable, the items on defence, on veterans' benefits and on the service of the debt. They result largely from the last war and that made a complete change in the situation. There have been modifications in other expenditures. Before the war one of our substantial items of expenditure was unemployment relief. The comparable expenditure is not on so large a scale now; our contribution to the unemployment insurance fund replaces that expenditure. But it seemed to me that the only useful way to make a comparison would be to see what we are now spending on the services which existed before the war, although they have been expanded.
1 asked them to show me what the expenditure was in 1938-39, excluding defence,
veterans' pensions and other benefits and the service of the national debt, and to give me the estimated cost of the comparable services in the present fiscal year, excluding the same three items and all the new services or expenditures which have been established since 1939, such as, for instance, family allowances and the payment made to the provinces as a rental for their abstaining from imposing certain forms of taxation which we impose in their stead. In 1938-39 the total was $326 million or $29.20 per capita. For 1951-52 the comparable estimates total $719 million or $55.80 per capita. The increase per capita is 91 per cent. This is just over the percentage increase in the cost of living index and a little less than the percentage increase in the wage level.
I think this then would indicate that the government has held down its expenditures on these services fairly effectively. It must be admitted that, for instance, in a service like that of the comptroller of the treasury, he has four times as much to do as he had during 1939 because he has to check the proper expenditure and accounting of everything in these new services that have been established. The Department of National Revenue has at least four times as much revenue to collect and account for as it had before 1939. Though I would have been somewhat happier if the increase had been less, I feel that a fairly close tab has been kept on the general overhead that has to be provided for in order to take care of the large increase in the nation's business.
What can be done to prevent further inflation? I hope there will not be further inflation. Recently in many of our papers we have seen advertisements of cuts in prices, some of them attributable to the reference in the speech from the throne to the fact that the fixing of resale prices was going to be made illegal. I am informed that there are quite large inventories throughout the country-
Subtopic: CONTINUATION OF DEBATE ON ADDRESS IN REPLY