Milton Neil Campbell
Mr. M. N. CAMPBELL (Mackenzie):
Mr. Speaker, in presenting another side of the question under debate I hope hon. members will not take it that I am lacking in sympathy for the farmers of those districts affected by drought last year. During the recess I spent almost all my time in helping to the best of my ability the farmers from the dried-out areas who have moved into the bush district in my constituency. I know something of their problems; my heart goes out in sympathy to them, not only those who have moved to the north and are pioneering again there, but those left in the dried out districts. So I want to make it clear that while I am presenting an entirely different side of this question my sympathies are very much with the people of those districts.
The first part of the resolution reads:
Whereas the policy of extending federal assistance to western farmers on a bushel basis rather than on an acreage basis has worked out most unfairly and unjustly to the residents of those districts suffering from failure or near failure of crop . . .
My contention, sir, is that this is not a correct or fair statement, and I hope I shall be able to convince at least some members of the house of that fact. With regard to the five cent bonus, I believe this is the first time any Canadian government has done such a thing for western farmers. There has been direct cash assistance from the federal treasury to aid the farmers of western Canada through their difficulties. Let us consider the farmer who had a crop. In my constituency, where there was a fairly good crop, the farmers were selling their wheat for about 30 cents a bushel at the elevator. After a man paid his threshing bill that meant he had left 23 or 24 cents, certainly not more than
25 cents net per bushel. Everyone knows that this return would not provide a living for the farmer, to say nothing about his ability to pay debts or anything else. Therefore the bonus came at an opportune time; as far as my district was concerned it was very acceptable and greatly appreciated by the great majority of the farmers.
Perhaps I misunderstood the Prime Minister (Mr. Bennett) when he introduced this measure last year, but I took his meaning to be that while this was not a permanent measure it was something that we could expect to be applied during the low price period. That being so, the application has not been so inequitable as might appear. I have lived in the north, in the bush districts, for twenty-five years. Year after year I recall our farmers envying the farmers in the prairie districts which have now been so affected by drought. Those were the districts where they were having abundant crops, big yields and fine qualities of grain; our farmers were the ones who were having the difficulties. In the natural order of things conditions might be reversed next year. If this five cent bonus is given for another year-and I believe that was the intention of the Prime Minister last year, whatever he thinks about it now-those southern districts may be the very ones having fine crops, and when they have crops in the south they have a far greater acreage than we have in the north. In my constituency the average farmer will have only half his land under cultivation; the balance will be bush, but in the southern country the whole farm is under cultivation, so naturally when there is a crop the production is very much greater. So it seems to me that the attacks on this measure are not quite fair.
When the legislation was brought in last year it was met with an onslaught from opposition members, particularly from the province of Quebec but also to some extent from Ontario and the maritime provinces. In his provincial campaign last year Premier Taschereau made this one of the main issues. So it seems to me that the least the government should expect is unanimity among the farmers of western Canada, for whose benefit the measure was brought down. The legislation should have met with the approbation and Support of leaders of thought among western farmers generally.
I cannot say that there has been any agitation against this measure in Manitoba; if there has been I have not heard anything of it. But the policy was hardly announced before a movement was started in Saskatchewan against the five cent bonus and in favour
Farm Relief-Mr. Campbell
of the dollar per acre. It was claimed by some of the advocates of the latter policy that it is not in direct opposition to the five cent bonus, but the effect of this whole campaign has been to create dissension among the farmers and to develop a lack of appreciation of the measure passed last session.
What are the arguments in favour of this bonus of a dollar per acre, and against the bonus of five cents per bushel? It is urged that it goes only to the farmer who has a crop while the farmer who has no crop gets nothing. On the face of it that seems an unanswerable argument, but there is another and entirely different side to the question. The farmers in my constituency, most of whom have crops, are not getting any relief and yet the very crops they have are in most cases not paying expenses. But in the southern parts of the drought-stricken districts millions of dollars of federal as well as provincial money are being handed out in road work and direct relief. It may be true, as the hon. member for Weyburn (Mr. Young) has said, that the farmers are signing notes for the relief they get. I would not discuss that question very much until we are able to see how many of these notes will be paid. The great bulk of the farmers are destitute, and if we looked ahead ten years I would predict that the great majority of them will never be paid. I hope the notes will be paid; I hope the farmers will have crops that will enable them to pay these notes. But I know that the ordinary debts, mortgages, interest and so forth that are piling up against the farms in the south, in the dry districts, are so great that when the farmers do get some crops the money will be used in that direction, and I am afraid that the Saskatchewan Relief Commission will come in last when it comes to collecting the notes. So far as that angle of the question is concerned, therefore, I think it is scarcely worth consideration.
As regards my own district, we had on the whole a good crop, but there are farmers there who had no crop; and there are many other farmers again who, because of the nature of the soil, as well as frost and other local difficulties, are unable to grow wheat successfully, so that they are compelled to grow only oats and barley. These farmers get nothing from the bonus but I have heard no particular complaints from them. A few of them mildly suggested that the bonus should have been applied to oats and barley, but even these farmers appreciate the fact that something has been done for their brother farmers, and I do not know of one single
instance, by meeting or in any other way, of any attack on the five cent bonus in my constituency. Of course, in these dry districts there are farmers who will have no crop and who will have to maintain themselves although they are not getting relief. It makes no difference, however, what measure you bring down, there is bound to be some inequality. It is utterly impossible to bring in any measure that will apply with absolute equity. The reasons brought forward by the hon. member for Weyburn supporting this, although he objects to the principle, are not very valid and sound, because there is inequality in any measure that is introduced. There is inequality even in free trade, which my hon. friend is so fond of putting forward.
I do not, therefore, expect that even this five cent bonus will be found to apply with absolute equity.
So far as my constituency is concerned, the five cent bonus has been universally appreciated by both farmers and business men. May I assure the house that I am not discussing this question from any party angle, because in the province of Saskatchewan there were outstanding men among the Progressives, members of the legislature, Liberals and Conservatives, who got out and took part in the campaign; and a recent convention of the United Farmers of Alberta placed themselves on record as condemning the principle of the bonus. So that there is no party angle to the question. But in view of the difficulties which the government had in bringing down the measure, and in view of the attacks made upon the government in this house and in the country when they attempted to do something for the western farmers, I did expect something better from the leaders of thought among the western farmers themselves. I hope the government will not be influenced by this in their attitude towards the policy for the coming year. I hope they will bring it down as they did last year, but if they do not then the farmers have only their own leaders to blame for losing one of the efforts made to meet their difficulties.
Subtopic: ALLEGED DISCRIMINATION IN FEDERAL ASSISTANCE ON BUSHEL RATHER THAN ACREAGE BASIS