Mr. DOUGLAS (Weybum):
The minister, in reply to the suggestion that has come from several members from the west, said that at this late date we should not be trying to alter the act. May I point out that the suggestions I made to-night I made in 1937 and again in
1938, asking for this very thing. So it is not something new that we are asking, nor are we asking for it at the tail end of the session, but we have asked for it year after year in western Canada because we realize the injustice that has been done to a certain group of our people.
The minister referred to the figures I gave regarding Saskatchewan income and attempted to wave them aside, saying it would be interesting to have the figures for 1938 and
1939. The Sirois report covers up to and including 1937 only. But I have a statement from the dominion bureau of statistics giving the index figures for all farm products, not just for Saskatchewan but for all western Canada, showing the decline there has been in prices, and the decline would be more accentuated in the case of Saskatchewan. I find that in 1936 there was a drop in the index commodity figure price to 69-4; in 1937, 87-1; in 1938, 73-6; in 1939, 64-3; in 1940, 70-0. In other words, from 1937 to 1940 there was a drop of 18-1 in the index commodity figure for agricultural products. So the situation has not bettered but has grown worse. When I quoted these figures to the minister I was quoting them in relation to the base year, 1926, when farm income was $257,630,000, to show the tremendous drop there has been in the income of those who are called upon to meet the terms of proposals made under this act.
We are not dealing now merely with a matter of statistics, although statistics show a difference of 17 per cent in the reductions. But we are dealing, as someone has already said, with personalities; the personnel of the board appointed in December, 1936, was of a totally different type from the personnel of the previous board, and the second board tackled the question with either a better knowledge of conditions or a much more courageous approach. The fact of the matter is that the people who came under the first board were treated differently from, and did not get as good a proposal as, the people who have subsequently come under the benefits of this legislation.
I am not going to labour the matter, except to say this as I sit down. The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Gardiner) and others have
been stressing the fact that in no small part Canada's contribution towards the successful prosecution of this war will be agricultural products. Agricultural commodities cannot be produced if large sections of people on the land are burdened down with debts which they cannot possibly hope to meet. Unless these people can see some way out, we are going to have thousands of men flocking to the cities and into industry-just the problem Great Britain is facing at this moment. If we are going to keep the young men on the farms in western Canada, we must deal with this debt situation; and I entirely agree with the hon. member for Swift Current that the western members at least would be glad to give their time in the mornings in committee to see if we cannot work out, irrespective of our differing political views, something which will solve the problem of the debt-ridden prairie farmer.
I agree with the minister when he says that this suggestion that a board shall rehear cases which came before the first board will not cancel the whole difficulty. Of course I had not that idea in mind. I suggested that it would deal merely with one little group. If we open up the question before a committee of this house, we shall have to go to the very root of the matter; and the root of the matter is this, that in each one of these contracts should be inserted a crop failure clause providing that if in any year the amount received by the farmer was not in excess of a certain number of bushels or dollars per acre, in that year there would be no interest payable, and interest would not accrue during the yeans when there were crop failures.
If the farmer, as this bill contemplates, is to be kept on the land as an efficient producer, the House of Commons either now or later must face this problem. I hope the minister, even though he cannot give consideration to further amendments at this time, will at least take cognizance of the representations which may have been made to him from various parts of this chamber, and he might make a reference to the committee on agriculture or to a special committee of this house to study the whole question of the prairie farmer in relation to the Farmers' Creditors Arrangement Act.
Topic: FARMERS' CREDITORS
Subtopic: AMENDMENT OF ARRANGEMENT ACT AS TO PROPOSALS FOR COMPOSITION, ETC., IN MANITOBA