Wilbert Ross Thatcher
Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)
Mr. W. Ross Thatcher (Moose Jaw):
Mr. Speaker, I rise this afternoon to deal briefly with two specific matters. The first has to do with a recent announcement of the Liberal government, which I desire to criticize and protest against. I refer to the decision to apply dumping duties to automobile imports from certain European countries including Britain and France. Surely that decision can only be described as a short-sighted, narrowminded policy, which is sacrificing the interests of the Canadian people as a whole to certain pressure or protectionist groups.
I should like to remind this house, and particularly members on the government side including the hon. member for Fraser Valley (Mr. Cruickshank), of the traditional, or perhaps I should say the professed, trade policy of the Liberal party during the past few decades. In public utterances, in parliament and elsewhere, not once but a hundred times, speakers of the Liberal party have stated that their government is working towards freer trade and fewer trade restrictions. I believe most members of the house would agree that the former prime minister, Mr. King, was an authority on this subject. He stated that Liberal trade policy in 1945 was as follows, and I am quoting from Maclean's magazine dated February 1: The Liberal party stands for the removal of barriers to trade, and is opposed to the principle of protection which is really a levy on consumers in Canada for the benefit of the protected industries.
On numerous occasions I have heard the Minister of Finance (Mr. Abbott) speak along similar lines. I have one quotation from a speech he made in Toronto a little more
than a year ago. According to the Globe and Mail of October 29, 1949, the Minister of Finance was thus reported:
But the solution of Canada's problem, he said, would depend on expanded trade, the lowering of trade barriers and the elimination of arbitrary restrictions and discriminatory practices.
I have one other quotation which I should like to put before the house. It is one which was made a short time ago by the leader of the Liberal party in my own province" of Saskatchewan. According to the Regina Leader-Post of December 12, 1949:
Walter Tucker, Saskatchewan Liberal leader, Friday night called upon the federal government to abolish all tariff and other restrictions on imports of British goods.
How can any member of the government reconcile words such as those, how can he reconcile the past professed trade policy of the Liberal party, with this action to apply dumping duties against British and French cars? It would seem that there has been so much talk of Korea, so much talk of national defence and the major issues, that the protectionist forces of this country thought they might get this act passed without anybody noticing it. I say that this dumping duty is completely undesirable.
Ever since the end of the war I have heard government speakers urging British industry to get its prices down to competitive Canadian levels, and to produce goods which Canadians wanted. According to the Prime Minister, according to the Minister of Trade and Commerce (Mr. Howe), and according to the Minister of Finance, it was by such means that Britain would be able to earn the Canadian dollars with which to buy our farm products, our timber products, and our ocean products. After all, if Britain is to buy from us, I suppose it is natural that she wishes to sell us goods to earn Canadian dollars. The British automobile industry accepted the admonition of our government. It got its prices down; it produced goods which Canadians wanted; it earned Canadian dollars. What is its reward? Apparently its reward is to be this so-called dumping duty.
Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that if we are to continue trading with the British we shall have to give them an opportunity of earning Canadian dollars. It would seem to me also that a government which has always stated its desire for freer trade would be more interested in securing markets for farm products in Britain than in giving a specific industry special protection.
Today the price of Canadian automobiles is almost beyond the reach of the average Canadian consumer. British cars are supplying a need in the Canadian market for cheaper
The Address-Mr. Thatcher transportation. If this duty is proceeded with it can only help to send the already skyrocketing cost of living up even further.
I say that this proposed dumping duty is all the more inopportune when we realize that at Torquay, at this very moment, many of the free nations of the world including Canada are discussing ways and means of eliminating this sort of restriction. There are few things which could so darken the prospects of success at Torquay as this new protectionist measure of our own government. I say that to raise these barriers in the midst of an international effort to lower them is an act of economic folly.
Why has the government decided to proceed with these dumping duties? We must assume that the action has come as a result of representations from the automobile industry. Were those representations justified? I should like to remind the house, Mr. Speaker, of two factors in connection with those representations. First of all, Canadian cars have roughly doubled in price since 1939. Today Canadian automobiles are so high in price that many Canadians, indeed I would say the majority of Canadians, cannot afford to buy them. Second, I would remind the house that the Canadian automobile industry already has ironclad protection from United States competition, because of tariff and control regulations. Having no fear from United States competition, the Canadian industry instantly protests as soon as the British competition becomes a little too serious.
I have always heard Mr. Sale, the president of the Ford Company of Canada, and other Canadian industrialists, pay great tribute to this free enterprise system, as they like to call it, and competition. Why now does Mr. Sale, as well as the others, protest competition as soon as it appears?
Is Canadian industry suffering because of this British competition? Has the industry been forced to curtail production in any way? Every member of this house knows that today the Canadian automobile industry cannot supply enough cars. If anyone wishes to buy a Ford, a Chevrolet, a Plymouth, or any other model he has to wait some months to secure delivery.
Is there any unemployment in the automobile field? There is not. On the contrary, today there is a shortage of skilled workers. There was an article in the Saturday Night this week which says, and I quote from page 42:
Canada's preparedness program now faces a threat no less serious than a steel shortage-skilled labour. All the emergency legislation, all the controls that our government or any other government could dream up might alleviate a skilled labour
shortage in the defence industries, but they could not increase the supply of highly-skilled labour in anything less than years.
In view of the war in Korea there is every indication that in the next year or so Canadian industry will be able to supply even fewer cars than it does now. By no stretch of the imagination can it be said that British imports are a threat to the Canadian automobile industry. I say that the request of this industry is a short-sighted, narrowminded request made on the basis of selfinterest. If the Canadian automobile industry wants to sell more cars in Canada, let it produce them more cheaply. I shall tell the government, although they will not listen to me, that this proposal is causing considerable concern in Canada, particularly in western Canada where the farmers are wondering why the government is taking such a step. I hope they will immediately withdraw these ill-advised dumping duties which they plan to impose on May 31.
Mr. Speaker, the second matter with which I should like to deal briefly-I think I can finish before six o'clock-has to do with the announcement made by the Minister of National Defence (Mr. Claxton) last Monday evening. He said that during the year $1-6 billion will be spent on national defence. It is of course virtually impossible for opposition members who have not taken part in the many conferences under the Atlantic pact, who have not attended the military talks, to know whether this $1-6 billion is too much or too little. As opposition members, we have little choice but to accept the words of the minister that this spending is vital and essential.
Having done that, I think that the citizens of Canada do expect us to diligently and carefully scrutinize the details of these expenditures and the estimates, in order to make sure the taxpayer is getting value for his dollar. I remember that last year the Minister of Finance said at page 1992 of Hansard:
I believe that the public of Canada have the right to expect parliament itself, the members of parliament itself, to exercise a constant and vigilant scrutiny over the conduct of administration, to search for waste and duplication.
Last Monday evening the Minister of National Defence said that 80,000 contracts had already been let.
It is going to be a terrific task to go over 80,000 contracts. Nevertheless, I believe it is our duty at least to make an endeavour. I personally believe, with other members who have spoken this session, that the only proper way to do that is by means of a special defence committee. I would like to see a specific committee set up for that purpose. I
think most members of this group feel likewise. However, if that is not going to be done, we must have some other vehicle for the purpose. I personally doubt if the government has much to hide; yet their great reluctance to set up a special defence committee has caused many people in the country to wonder if they have. If we are not going to have a special committee, probably the next best vehicle is the public accounts committee.
I was indeed pleased to hear the Prime Minister (Mr. St. Laurent) the other day state-at least I took him so to state-that opposition members would be given the opportunity in the public accounts committee to examine defence expenditures. As reported at page 111 of Hansard, the Prime Minister said:
There will be an opportunity for hon. members, including the members of the opposition, to examine in the public accounts committee all the expenditures that have been made.
I hope that the Prime Minister will tell his chairman and the other Liberal members on that committee about that statement; because last year the Minister of Finance (Mr. Abbott) made a similar statement. As reported at page 1991 of Hansard it was as follows:
Let me point out to the house that the public accounts committee is a standing committee of this house . . . and there is opportunity in the public accounts committee for any hon. member, and in particular for hon. members of the opposition, to ask that any deputy minister, or any official of any department, be brought before that committee, and to examine him to their heart's content as to the details of the particular services of the department.
The minister last year said that. But when we got into the committee, although the members asked for a good deal of information, they were not able to get it. Opposition members asked for witnesses, they asked for figures, and they asked for the public accounts. They asked for many things, but they did not get much satisfaction. We were repeatedly overruled when we sought information, and we were consistently refused the public accounts themselves. I think that committee sat for three months before it even got to the public accounts.
I would remind the house of one thing further. Last year the hon. member for Winnipeg North (Mr. Stewart) asked that that committee be called for the specific purpose of inquiring into national defence expenditures. Yet all during those three months, despite many requests, we were not able to get the national defence expenditures brought before us. I hope the minister will give some assurance that the same thing will not happen again. Let me say that Canadians want defence expenditures scrutinized. If the government is sincere in also wanting them
The Address-Mr. Thatcher scrutinized, I hope they will call the public accounts committee together, if that is to be the committee, and that they will call it together early. Perhaps it would be wise not to spend so much time as is customary with Mr. Sellar. Let us get down to the national defence expenditures at once and stay there.
The other evening the hon. member for Quebec South (Mr. Power) stated his opposition to calling the chiefs of staff before a parliamentary committee. I admit that I know little about military matters; but nevertheless I presume to disagree with the hon. member for Quebec South in this connection. These chiefs of staff, these men who are high up in military affairs, are the experts and they are the ones who should be able to inform parliament about defence matters. They should be the ones to tell us what is being done, how it is being done, why it is being done, and whether or not we are getting value for our defence dollar. Surely an explanation by a parliamentary committee could be conducted with some dignity and with a proper regard for security. The Minister of National Defence (Mr. Claxton) should not be the only one who knows the reasons which require the spending of this $1.6 billion. I serve notice that this group will, as soon as the debate on the speech from the throne is finished, seek to have the public accounts committee called in order to deal with national defence expenditures. If or when it is called, this group will seek to call before it the defence minister himself, the chief of the general staff, Air Marshal Curtis and many other officials whom we may feel could give information which the people of Canada would like to have. I think one more thing should be done; if the government really wants to make this an effective committee, let them do as is done in England. Let them make the chairman a member of the opposition. Then I think we might get a proper scrutiny of defence expenditures.
At six o'clock the house took recess.