We have not sufficiently debated the present state of our agricultural industry. Outside of mentioning it in budget debates and in throne speech debates, this is the first time during this session that we have had an opportunity to discuss agriculture. The
March 1, 1968
main estimates of the department went through somewhat hurriedly, though they had been considered earlier in the committee. I always thought that the practice was to allow hon. members an opportunity to say a few words in the House of Commons and I hope, because of this, and because of the number of people who are planning to take part in this debate, government spokesmen will not go about the country saying the opposition is holding up the business of the house. I cannot think of anything more important to the house than paying attention to solving the problems of agriculture.
As previously mentioned, there is ample evidence throughout the country that serious difficulties have arisen. The number of demonstrations, protest marches and briefs since the minister assumed office should have convinced the hon. gentleman that he has a formidable task before him. I do not suggest for a moment that the minister is not interested or that he does not care: I think he is concerned. But I believe some of his cabinet colleagues are much less concerned, and that he has not been able to exercise the degree of authority within the cabinet necessary to enable him to do the things we feel need to be done.
I recall one of the promises made in the speech from the throne a year ago-that legislation would be introduced to provide assistance to agricultural societies across this country by way of grants or loans. This subject has been raised on several occasions and questions have been asked in this house, but we have never been told that the minister is likely to be able to get his legislation on the order paper, let alone on the statute books, in this current session.
When he sums up the debate the minister may, with some justification, point to figures which indicate an increase in farm income and say: Well, we are not doing too badly. If those figures told the entire story, if they gave a real indication how agriculture is faring, perhaps we would believe that agriculture was not doing too badly. But they do not tell the whole story, and all of us know it. Those in this house who are actively engaged in farming are deeply concerned about the position in which farmers find themselves as a result of the tremendous increase which has taken place in production costs. If there has been any increase in farm income it has been exceeded out of all proportion by the increase in the cost of the things farmers have to buy.
This increase in cost is to a large extent a result of actions taken by this government -higher taxation, higher costs due to taxes placed upon taxes, higher interest rates and so on. The kind of prosperity which farmers are enjoying today makes them wonder whether they should not have saved their money during the depression, so they could enjoy it. Talking about increased cost, these seems to be a creed, a solemn promise among those who supply farmers, that they will exact every last nickel out of his pockets so that there may be nothing left for him at all. As a result, the farmer finds himself having to run faster than ever in order to stay in the same place.
The commission which was set up to study the increase in farm machinery prices is one which should be supported by every member of this house. My experience is that if farmers do enjoy a good year-and there have been some good years in the past-there never seems anything left over after increased costs of production have been met. Farmers continually find themselves in this position and I am beginning to wonder whether it does not have something to do with the fact that a Liberal government is in power.
We recall the attitude of the party opposite toward the Canadian Wheat Board in the early years; when they took office in 1935 it was one of opposition to that agency. They only began to embrace this concept of marketing after the war had ended and the dangers of inflation were apparent. The signing of the wheat agreement with Britain at that time seemed to be nothing more than an effort to keep prices down and to use the farmer as a scapegoat in order to combat inflation. This pattern has returned and again we see a reduction of wheat prices, despite the contribution the farmers of this country have made toward solving the balance of payments difficulties experienced by this government a few years ago.