Articles

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Trouble Ahead for Wheat

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK April 1 1949
Articles

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Trouble Ahead for Wheat

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK April 1 1949

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

Trouble Ahead for Wheat

THE MAN WITH A NOTEBOOK

WHILE politicians are bickering over constitutional niceties, and the public is dropping off to sleep, an issue of deadly importance is developing: what’s going to happen to Canadian wheat?

Backbone of our export trade, and the livelihood of the Prairies, is the wheat we sell to Great Britain —$280 millions worth this year. We collect that in U. S. dollars, which the British get from Washington under the Marshall Plan. This year the Americans have more wheat of their own than they know what to do with. They expect a surplus of about 500 million bushels—more than they could store in all the granaries in the country, and therefore more than Washington could buy under its price-support policy.

Somewhere, somehow, they have to get rid of that wheat. Otherwise the bottom drops out of the market, the American farmer raises Cain and the American Government has a political conflagration on its hands. In these circumstances it’s getting harder and harder for the American Government to hand out American money to the British to pay for Canadian wheat.

A simple, tempting solution of Washington’s problem would be to declare wheat a surplus commodity. Then, under the Marshall Plan law, no Marshall dollars could be used to buy wheat anywhere except in the United States. The American surplus would be diminished by 140 million bushels that Britain now buys from us. It wouldn’t make any difference to the British either way they’re getting it free. But it would be very serious for Canada.

This cloud has one silver lining—the fact that

Washington is keenly aware of Canada’s danger and wholly sympathetic. If any way out of the impasse can be found it’s sure of a sympathetic hearing from the Americans. So far, though, no solution seems to have been worked out.

IF MARSHALL dollars are refused for Canadian wheat, Ottawa would have two courses openboth thorny:

First, simply to fall back on our contract with Britain. The British agreed to buy 140 million bushels of Canadian wheat; we could call on them to honor that contract. This sounds easy—Britain has, of course, some earned American dollars as well as her Marshall Plan allotment. Whether she could use these dollars for Canadian wheat is doubtful. Washington could say that this is just a back-door method of doing what we can’t do by the front door. However, it’s just possible that a sympathetic Washington might close an eye to this financial juggling.

Failing that, Canada could unfreeze the remaining $235 millions of her loan to Britain— enough to pay for the greater part of the wheat contract. True, we’d be trading on credit again; we’d start losing American dollars again, just as we did before. It couldn’t go on for long, but at least it could go on past the general election.

Both these devices take for granted a high degree of co-operation from the British. After all, if they use the Canadian loan to buy wheat, they’re using borrowed money-—they’ll have to pay it back some day. If they buy Continued on page 80

Continued from page 16

American wheat with Marshall Plan dollars, they’re getting it free. Why should they buy from Canada?

E’or one more year we’ve got a solid answer to that: “You signed a contract.” Britain is not in the habit of going back on her word. But for tire years beyond it’s another matter. Canada will have great difficulty to persuade Britain to buy foodstuffs at good prices when either (a) they can be got for nothing under the Marshall Plan: or (b) surpluses have knocked the world price far below what the Canadian farmer has come to regard as a fair return.

* * *

ALL THIS is acutely embarrassing . to the Government, most of all to Rt. Hon. James Garfield Gardiner.

Two and a half years ago this column ventured the opinion that Jimmy Gardiner had bet $200 millions,

and the next election, on the collapse of the wheat market. His food contracts with Britain set prices well below the boom peaks of the immediate postwar years. In return for this sacrifice he promised the farmer “stability”— a continuation of “fair” prices when the downturn came and food in the open market would be selling dirt cheap.

The market didn’t break. Through the entire life of the British contract world prices have been higher than contract prices. It’s still possible, of course, that they may break in the final year—but it’s most unlikely that Marshall Plan dollars could be used, either directly or indirectly, to buy Canadian wheat at higher than American prices.

This year Mr. Gardiner haggled for weeks with the British for a lump-sum compensation for the low prices they’ve been enjoying all these years. They stopped haggling when they found that the very idea of a cash settlement made the U. S. administration see red. Our big argument with them, and theirs with Congress, had been Canada’s

“generosity” in offering Britain food at low prices. If we were now proposing to wipe out this “generosity” by a cash compensation, Washington was ready to tell us both to go jump in the Great Lakes.

So the new contract was announced, and the matter of compensation “deferred.” Now Mr. Gardiner has the task of explaining to Canadian farmers just why, and for what, they gave up the peak prices of the postwar boom.

* * *

If anybody still thinks Canada’s a colony, here’s a little story to comfort them. Believe it or not this really did happen:

A while ago a man from one of the British missions here stopped overnight with his wife in a small village in the United States. Their hostess was a genial soul, but a bit vague as to who her guests were, what they did, or where they came from. As they were saying, good-by in the morning, she remarked:

“We always like to have people come here from Canada. But of course you don’t exactly come from Canada, do you?”

Her guests said no; they were stationed in Canada just now, but they really came from the U. K.

“Oh, well,” said the hostess, “we’re very glad, too, to have someone from one of Canada’s colonies.”

* * *

Up to the moment of writing, Opposition Leader George Drew has only once been thrown for a serious loss in the game that’s being played on Parliament Hill. The man who planned that play was no Government strategist but a French - Canadian newspaperman named Pierre Vigeant.

Vigeant is Ottawa correspondent for Le Devoir, a Montreal daily of strongly nationalist views. He’s a quiet, softspoken fellow who apparently regards Mr. Drew’s overtures to Quebec with a sceptical eye.

Came the Newfoundland debate. Mr. Drew moved that the request to His Majesty, to confirm and ratify the terms of union with Newfoundland, be not presented until the provinces had been consulted and such consultation had reached a “satisfactory conclusion.”

Since Mr. Duplessis had asked repeatedly for consultation with the provinces on this matter, Mr. Drew’s amendment sounded fine in Quebec. However, Pierre Vigeant smelled a rat. What did a “satisfactory conclusion” mean? Did Mr. Drew propose to get the consent of the provinces to this move or not?

Vigeant talked to some orthodox Liberals on the Government benches but they didn’t want to make anything of it. Then he met Wilfrid Lacroix, who calls himself an Independent Liberal but who is a fiery Quebecnationalist and votes against the Government as often as he votes for it. He wanted to make a speech on the question anyway and he warmed to Pierre Vigeant’s idea.

Next day Mr. Lacroix threw his bombshell. He moved a subamendment—instead of the vague reference to “satisfactory conclusions,” he made it read that the address to His Majesty should only be presented “with the consent of the provinces.” With Jean Francois Pouliot, another nominal Liberal, as his seconder, he challenged Mr. Drew “if you are sincere” to support the subamendment.

Mr. Drew balked at giving Quebec a veto on this issue. He voted with the Government against the Lacroix subamendment.

His gesture to Quebec turned into a

boomerang, which hit him next day with considerable violence. Reaction in the French press was unanimous.

Liberal papers openly gloated.“Drew Manoeuvre Unmasked” was the eightcolumn sweepline in Le Soleil, Quebec City. La Presse of Montreal, largest French - Canadian daily, headlined “Political Manoeuvre Dodged.” La Tribune of Sherbrooke: “Drew and His Party Paralyzed.”

In the independent and very influential Action Catholique, the incident was reported by Lorenzo Pare as follows:

“For two days George Drew and the Conservative Party have protested because the provinces were not consulted . . . When the moment came for the decisive act which would have given the provinces the right to be consulted in a real and effective way they (the PC’s) went into reverse and voted against a measure which was the logical conclusion of their speeches.”

Liberals were delighted. Their two black sheep, Lacroix and Pouliot, basked in the unaccustomed glory of party approbation. Pierre Vigeant got no credit at all, but he didn’t seem to mind.

“I don’t like it when they try to fool our people,” he said. “I didn’t like it when King called it mobilization instead of conscription. I don’t like it when Drew calls for consultation and balks at consent.”

* * *

Progressive Conservatives are not the only ones having their troubles with Quebec. The Government is in hot water again over the “five collaborators”—the Frenchmen who, convicted in France of aiding the Nazi occupation, are biding snug in Canada.

One of them the Government is determined to deport—Count Jacques de Bernonville. When the five names came before the Cabinet last fall ministers thought the case against the other four looked relatively trivial— they were willing, then, to let the four stay. But on the information they were given about De Bernonville, they decided Canada wouldn’t want him.

Last month the Count’s appeal against a deportation order was upheld, on the valid ground that the immigration tribunal which heard his case was improperly constituted. Mr. Justice Cousineau of Montreal took the opportunity, however, of expressing other opinions—the general effect of them was that De Bernonville should not be deported by any tribunal. This is the view of a great many French Canadians. De Bernonville has acquired powerful friends among Quebec nationalists, including Mayor Camillien Houde of Montreal and Rene Chaloult, onetime firebrand of the Bloc Populaire.

Politics or no politics, the Government is determined to proceed against De Bernonville. Another tribunal will be set up, this time with the proper number of members, and if its finding is the same as that of its predecessor out Count de Bernonville will go.

As for the others, there won’t be so much hurry. On the basis of new information, the Government is now inclined to think two of the four should be sent home. However, it takes time to copy all the facts from the files of the French Ministry of Justice. The Government would be relieved if this process should take so long that it wouldn’t be finished until after the general election.

Legally there is no question at all of the Government’s right to deport all fiver' They entered Canada on false passports, under assumed names. That automatically makes them liable to deportation. ★