Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - September 20, 1974, Lethbridge, Alberta
4 LETHBRIOQE HERALD Friday, 20, 1974 Government abdicating responsibilities Old habits of laissez-faire Laissez-faire is almost a thing of the past. As an economic theory (minimum government interference in the economic order) it exacts a certain tribute, but in practice it is outmoded. Nevertheless, some residual habits of thought are noticeable in certain areas, specifically in use of the environment. It is not longer possible to exploit labor to any great extent, nor is it possible to exploit capital although justified charges are sometimes laid in specific instances. However, it is still possible to exploit the physical environment even though, look- ed at in the simplest terms, this is mankind's capital. The idea is still prevalent that the environment should be free for whatever economic opportunity arises. Environmental controls, where they exist, are usually treated as nuisances or good will gestures to be ex- ploited in terms of public opinion, rather than as valid economic factors within the framework of development. The Alberta Land Surface Conserva- tion and Reclamation Act has been call- ed strict. It is not strict. It is simply tediously detailed with provisions which "may'" be enforced. The unwritten cor- ollary to this is that they might NOT be enforced. Enforcement is the operative word in environmental protection and this is where residual habits of thought have a dangerous bearing. This was well illustrated by reports from the recent Canadian conference on coal in Calgary. Delegates reportedly agreed and disagreed on whether development should belong to the public or the private sector, on the rights of the federal government to limit exports and collect revenues, and on related political and economic matters including trans- portation. They heard Energy Minister Donald Macdonald call for co operation among the provinces and Ottawa in mak- ing the best use of coal resources. Apparently little attention was given to the need for a unified approach to en- vironmental controls although it has been well documented that coal poses environmental problems at least equal to those of arctic gas and oil. As pressure builds on coal resources, with consuming provinces vying for the available supplies and producing provinces vying for sales, the temptation to exploit the environment at the provincial level will be hard to resist, particularly if it is done in the name of adding jobs to a local economy, bringing in new revenues to depressed areas, or in the even more sacred cause of supplying energy. For this reason, it is as much the duty of the federal government to persuade the provinces of the need for a consensus on an environmental approach to coal development as it is to persuade them to join forces in studying coal inventories. This is not Mr. Macdonald's purview, of course, and the lack of any great ex- pressed concern for environmental matters at the conference can be attributed to old habits which still hang on. Attacking the food problem Making promises of food aid for the hungry, as U.S. President Gerald Ford did this week at the United Nations, is laudable. Everyone now realizes, however, that the world's food problem requires more than a band-aid approach. Transport facilities in many countries are not adequate for the moving of large quantities of foodstuff. The stories of rotting or rodent-infested grain lying on docks or at railroad terminals are grim testimony to that. An obvious answer one that has had some attention in the recent past, but not enough is for the developing countries to grow more of their own food. Too much effort has been expended in trying to industrialize; concentration on im- proving agriculture would have been a better investment of international sid money. Yet even the brave and promising attempts to increase food production through the growing of miracle grains have been set back by the shortage of fer- tilizer and the disastrous inflation of prices of oil and equipment. Recently 160 of the world's top agriculture industry leaders met in Toronto under the auspices of the United Nations to address themselves to this situation. What they proposed, if anything, is not known since they met behind closed doors. But the fact that these businessmen have looked at the whole problem and have been challenged to work out some approaches to it could hold promise. The more the food shortage problem is held before those with potential to do something about it the more likelihood there is that necessary actions will be taken. Those countries, for example, that burn off flare gas in their oil operations might see the necessity of converting it to fertilizer. Dr. John Hannah, a UN of- ficial, says that if 25 per cent of the flare gas burned off in the Middle East were converted to fertilizer there would be enough to supply the developing nations. Meanwhile, a reordering of priorities in other places couid release fertilizer for crop production which is now being used for other purposes. James P. Grant, president of the Overseas Development Council, has pricked a lot of consciences by his statement that Americans are applying some three million tons of nutrients to lawns, gardens, golf courses and cemeteries more than used by all the farmers in India, and half again as much as the current shortage in develop- ing countries. ERIC NICOL Hen fruit While Ottawa looks for an air freshener to kill the smell of 12 million eggs gone bad, some government officials have become touchy on the subject of hen fruit. I had lunch with one of them yesterday, an agriculture department man named Kluck. "I think." I said, closing the menu, "I'll have the poached eggs." "You sure know how to hurt a snarl- ed Kluck. "Gee, excuse I said, having meant no offence. "Scratch the eggs. I'll have the coq au vin "There you go again Kluck bit his napkin fretfully. "You are insinuating that the policy of the egg marketing board is responsible for chickens goin on the sauce." "Believe me. I was not putting down your eggs. I'm sure there was a good reason why 12 milhon eggs were allowed to go bad." "Darn right there was." said Kluck. "And it's just a matter of time til we think of what it was." "As I understand it. the egg marketing board has an obligation to the egg producer to get the highest pnce possible for his eggs And by storing the 12 million eggs without proper refrigeration, you made sure that they were as high as they could get "There you go cried Kluck. "You journalists are all the same you can't resist egf cracks." "Let's not ruin our lunch We won't talk about egg production "Good "We'll let the matter lay Kluck choked on his drink For a civil ser- vant he was a remarkably sensitive person I made a mental note not to recite Humpty Dumpty unless he specifically requested it. I said: "If the public has to pay inflated prices for farm products, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Who has given the farmer the ex- ample of greed if not the urban worker? It's a classic case of chickens said Kluck, a dangerous edge to his voice. .Of ducks coming home to roost." Kluck flapped his elbows in an unconscious display of disturbed poultry, and said: "Nobody knows what it's like to work on the marketing board for a product delivered by the genito urinary tract of a chicken. The chicken is the dumbest creature on earth." "You mean, it's really the chickens" fault that you have been left with egg "With gritted Kluck "With pizza on vour face." Kluck shook his wattles mopdilv and said "People blame us for pampering the farmer I ask you, have you ever met a coddled egg but I don't move in egg circles." I said "The only thing I've learned about eggs is that you don't test them for freshness by them It makes the supermarket messy Kluck refused to be jollied out of his sulk, so after lunch I suggested thai we go down to the Y for a swim "It wi'.l make you forget your worries I said, as we emerged from Ihe pool dressing room "Last one in is a rotten egg1" Kluck hit the water and sank like a stone Odd. when egg prices are so buoyant This age of chivalry By Dong Walker By W. A. Wilson, Montreal Star commentator OTTAWA For too many months now the principal fed- eral presence in this country has been that well-known to- mato farmer, Eugene Whelan, trampling around in a sea of rotten eggs John Munro has inter- mittently tried to take the play from him through .interventions in strikes. The chorus of accusations that he mishandled the West Coast gram handlers' dispute more than drowned out any praise he received for his work in the Lake shipping tieup. Finance Minister Turner, after exposing himseli to the nick-name 'The Invisible Man' during the summer, re- emerged as finance minister this month. Prime Minister Trudeau and the rest of the cabinet still leave the impres- sion that they are hiding in their bomb shelters. This week a minister, who has not been very conspicuous himself since the election, commented that if the Trudeau government had not won a majority in the July election it might still be doing just about what it is now. But he conceded freely enough that it would be doing it very differently, trying to make a public impact Like the rest of the non- Communist world, we have been living through the most uncertain period since the Se- cond World War ended. Really since the battles of El Alamein and of Stalingrad changed the war's course in 1942. Understandably, people have been worried and uneasy despite the contradiction that this remains a comfortable period despite all the rise in prices Yet Canada has had no gov- ernmental leadership since early in the year, not since March at the most recent. April found the cabinet engag- ed in survival exercises. The May budget was aborted by the parliamentary defeat. The open-handed promises of the election campaign were part "There's a lot to be said for our governments sitting back and doing nothing when you look at what they have done." Whelan makes concession to consumers By Maurice Western, Herald Ottawa commentator OTTAWA Eugene Whelan, according to mid- week reports, has reversed himself on one aspect of marketing policy. Com- menting on demands for con- sumer representation on mar- keting boards, the Minister of Agriculture is now quoted as saying ''It wouldn't make no difference to me." As Mr Whelan on other occasions (when prodded, for example, by the Food Prices Review Board and by his colleague, Andre Duel- let) has taken spir- ited objection to such suggestions, this is clear- ly a concession. It does not appear, however, that the Minister is particularly ar- dent in the quest for accom- modations. On the contrary the evidence suggests that he has had little choice in the matter It may have been Mr. Whe- lan's conviction in the beginn- ing that the egg controversy was a summer storm which would quickly pass and be forgotten. Instead, and partly because so many involved per- sons have been impelled to justify themselves, it has con- tinued to gather momentum. The public outcry, provoked by the Plumptre criticisms and later revelations, had a political impact, breaching the unity of the cabinet But this in turn created more troubles for the embattled Minister and now, with Parliament about to convene, Mr. Whelan faces a new em- barrassment in the shape of an early report, commission- ed by the Canadian Consumer Council, which is said to recommend consumer representation on farm marketing boards. This is not all. Mr. Ouellet, in his critical statement of September 4, said that he would be urging Cabinet "to support the appointment of user representatives in the marketing board system and to ensure that they have a real opportunity to influence the decision-making process The Cabinet, however, will have more to consider than the representations of Mr Ouellet because the Liberal party is strongest in precisely those urban areas which are particularly sensitive to the Expectation of leadership From the Toronto Globe and Mail Fern Bouchard's diminutive daughter Linda joined us for golf one weekend At the end of the game one day she heaved her heavy golf bag nearly as big as her off the cart and on to her back and started off if the rar Thinking that father ought to be chivalrous and offer to cam the bag, I poked him and pointed at his Mmgghng daughter She a strong girl. said Fern, ad- mmnglv as he watched her walk awav In the war on inflation, Finance Minister John Turner is facing the most severe challenge encountered by any Canadian minister of finance since the war years of 1939-45. when our entire economy and tax structure had to be ad- justed for an all-out war effort against Nazi Germany. In the war years, however, bombs were falling, people were being killed: the dangers were clearly apparent. Mobilizing public support and securing an effective degree of restraint, co-operation and self-discipline from both in- dustry and labor was relative- ly easy, in fact, almost automatic as the dangers increased, and one country after another was over-run Today's war of first creep- ing inflation and now hyper- inflation, although lives are not being lost, is perhaps more insidious and poses a serious threat to our economic security, our freedoms and national wav of life Late last month Canadians Iramed that their country's inflation factor had jumped 14 7 rent while the ronorm growth rate stalK Last week there was of another one cent increase in the cost of iivmc 'now up flfl per cent over 1977? averages) Will Mr Turner be able to inspire and develop a suf- fment degree of public sup- port to win the war on inflation'' To date there is no evidence that the public is suf- ficiently alerted or alarmed to give Mr. Turner the needed support to mobilize the necessary all-out effort to win the battle. Indeed, there has been little evidence since the election that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau himself is fully seiz- ed of the dangers or his own responsibilities, despite his campaign promise to "wrestle" the problem into the ground. The country since the election has heard nothing whatever from Mr. Trudeau on the economic firing-line, other than his ill-advised letter on the gram handlers" strike, and his statement just recently in Calgary that "we will have a meeting on infla- tion when the time is right Politicians, charged with the need to keep the country running from day to day. can seldom take drastic steps un- less they enjoy a substantial degree of public confidence and understanding Thus they have an obligation to educate Uie public with the dire facts of life To a limited degree only. Canada's inflation is influenc- ed by prices of imported goods and world conditions But the fact remains that 90 per cent of our problem is caused by excessive spending by our various governments themselves, by enforced wage settlement and the increas- ing of paper money and credits It is ridiculous to argue that Canada cannot seriously move against inflation until other, countries act. The fact is that nobody wants to hear unplea- sant truths or make any sacrifice themselves until they are hurl The real test in the next few- months is whether Ottawa can find both the courage and suf- ficient public support to move before we drift into massive unemployment and a major recession. If public support does not come, the government, despite all assurances to the contrary, may well be forced into various forms of compulsory restrictions and harsh legal controls. Todav Mr Trudeau is in the happy and strong position of starting off a new term of of- fice with a clear majority and a fresh mandate. The country has every reason Jo expect strong leadership from Mr Trudeau in dealing with inflation There would be a general sigh of relief and an upswing in business con- fidence if the country could be convinced that Mr Trudeau is determined to do what must be done, however unpleasant We must all hope such assurances will be contained in the Speech from the Throne when Parliament opens To meet his present challenge, Mr Turner will need a great deal of support, not only from Mr Trudeau and his cabinet colleagues but also from both induslrv and labor accusations brought against the egg marketing agency If the Government does not move to implement this suggestion, an initiative will certainly be taken in Parlia- ment by one of its own sup- porters Mr Wnelan's new willingness to accept con- sumer representatives on marketing boards may reflect not only his grasp of political realities but also a belated conviction that their pres- ence would not make very much difference in actual pol- icy It remains his firm opi- nion that CEMA's price policies were correct and that it should be possible to avoid such errors as may have oc- curred by equipping the agency with a computer. In the view of his critics the change proposed would have at least one merit; it would endow the marketing system with an appearance of fairness which it cannot have when it is controlled ex- clusively by producers in the interests of producers. Whether the proposed more representative boards would mean a difference in practice is an important question. The answer presumably depends on the ability and character of (he consumer representatives and essentially on their freedom and willingness to bring serious policy matters to public attention if find themselves unable to influence their producer colleagues If what is propos- ed is mere window dressing, one can see the force of Mr Wheian's observation. After the recent deluge of rotten egg statistics, however, window dressing will have very little public appeal. The upsurge of protest is directed against the policy which kept eggs out of consumption Ges- tures are not likely to be very persuasive while Mr. Whelan misses no opportunity to af- firm that he will defend Uie poJjcv to his last breath of a contest for favor, not of leadership Even when the post-election vacations were finished, the government made no attempt to provide any of the elements ol leadership. It must be concluded that Prime Minister Trudeau grew up without the capacity to un- derstand the psychology of nations in difficult times The activities of the provin- cial premiers in Toronto last week were far from im- pressive and in certain cases they were atrocious Premier Hatfield's dismissal of Trudeau as for example Any man heading a government ought to have enough respect for the processes of government, for the need always to maintain confidence in government as such, to avoid that level of comment Nonetheless, it needs to be recognized that, even if they did it badly, the provincial premiers were trying to fill the vacuum that Trudeau and the federal cabinet have created If the prime minister and his men deliberately create the impression that they are a frightened group cowering in their basements they have to expect that sort of thing. They, far more than the gauchenes of a Hatfield, are damaging confidence in government in this country In a long conversation I had with the finance minister a couple of weeks ago he left the impression of a minister in top form with a good grip on his problems Remarkably lit- tle of that positive impression comes through, though, in the flaccid speech on the domestic economy which he deliver- ed last Friday in Vancouver. He probably delivered it in his usual hard, thrusting style but a speech intended as the govrnment's first real analysis of domestic economic issues for months ought to stand up to critical reading away from the impact of the minister's delivery. The Turner speech does not Its nature made it inevitable that it would get the bad reaction that greeted it afterwards. Turner is Justifiably afraid that union-, will seek to esti- mate the probable rate of in- flation during the next two years, add in a safety margin, then add in something further for a small real wage increase and then go for that im- pressive total in their negotiations. In a newspaper column on Monday economist Dian Cohen posed a set of questions that come far closer to the heart of this whole problem of economic leadership than anything that has come from the department of finance or anvwhpre else in the Canadian government If the government would answer Miss Cohen's questions in plain language it would, in spite of its inclinations, be providing leadership for the country, not leaving vacuums to be filled by anyone from competing provincial politicians to the doom-savers. No issue could possibly be filled with more competing anxieties that this year's wage negotiations, anxieties shared around among government, owners, labor leaders, man- agers and most of all ordinary men and women. Does the government believe that careful indexing of wage scales to provide sure protec- tion of purchasing power would get us away from the element of self-fulfilling prophecies that will be inev- itable if it is left to generous union estimates of the likely rate of inflation two years from noW Or does it think this would be inflationary too? Some day. the men elected lead this country need to lake their courage in their hands, climb out of their bomb shelters and answer questions like that When they do. they will be meeting the duties they were elected to perform The lethbridge Herald 7th SI S Leihbndge. 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