Those Pesky Farmers Out West
Author of “Deep Furrows,
ONCE upon a time there was a row in the Winnipeg city council and at the height of the confusion
a worthy alderman leaped to his feet and, hoarse with emotion, shouted:
“Get together fellows. Fer Gawd’s sake, let’s try to bring order out of ca-hoss!”
It is too bad that this level-headed citizen is not “with us to-day”; for in the political confusion of the hour he would be a man with a message. With the war over and the heralded “period of reconstruction” moving in, the first big vanload of difficulties has been gee-hawed to the national doorstep and dumped in a clutter. It is little wonder that political leaders who believe that a stitch in time saves embarrassment are nonplussed by the subtractions which the war has wrought in the old party machinery. Parts are missing, aogs bent; rust and moth have corrupted and thieves have broken through and stolen allegiance until it would seem that new machinery altogether might better be built.
The decision of the organized Grain Growers of Western Canada, supported strongly by the farmers of the East, to take definite political action by the formation of a Farmers’ Party has broken the glass in the political barometer; so that soothsaying the result of the next election is about as satisfactory as filling the churn with buttercups or milking cowslips or frying pig-weed! It can’t be done by holding a wet finger in the air or tossing straws aloft when the finger turns cold on all sides at once and the straws loop the loop. So, anxious eyes in the East have been scanning the Western political sky for the sundogs which presage disturbance and it is quite possible that a few of the uninformed have been listening for the critters to bark!
Why it is East vs. West
IT is a way of the East to only half understand things Western, to only half appreciate Western difficulties and the Western viewpoint. Away back in the days when the West was shod in moccasins and shoe-packs and hob-nailed boots, patent-leathers twinkled under the ballroom lights of Montreal and the West went East for everything. The Old have always looked upon the Young with tolerant smiles and the thing becomes a habit of thought that is not set aside easily. Halfcock opinion based on incomplete information and disseminated by editors who have never been farther West than the magazine illustrations—and a lot of them have not!—has not tended to better understanding. Every little while a party of American editors tours the West, piloted by the chauffeurs of the railway and the Department of Immigration. Just the other day the autos were buzzing in Winnipeg, carrying cards with the greeting: “Welcome, Editors.” The Government might well afford to spend some money in giving every hard-working editor and 3ub-editor in Eastern Canada a whiff of Western air and a full ration of first-hand information. The West would treat them right. Meanwhile, school geographies notwithstanding, Ganada is divided into two parts, East and West; it is bounded on the
East by the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association and on the south by a Tariff Wall—on the north by that “glorious heritage of ours” and on the West by the Grain Growers and such popular institutions as Hon. Bob Rogers, R. B. Bennett, Hon. Frank Oliver and the Calgary Eyeopener of that fine old Indian, Bob Edwards !
A welt of Laurentian rock and an area of pulpwood lies between Eastern and Western Canada—a difference of distance that can be bridged by thirty-six hours on a train and a burnt tongue from too much smoking. Unfortunately this geological barrier has developed a segregation of interests, while the divergence of topography has created special channels of activity for the populations of each section. Thus, the Western prairies have foreordained the preponderance of agriculture in the West for all time to come. Both East and West, therefore, have individual problems which are traceable to environment and occupation and their harmonious solution calls for a better understanding of viewpoints on both sides.
Especially is this so now in a time of misconception and general suspicion. The catastrophe of the Great War has bred distrust of Governments the world over. The peoples of the world have been harried into corners with their backs to the wall. They are still dazed and scarcely know which way to turn for guidance. The one thing w'hich obsesses is the belief that any system which permitted 9«ch a crime against civilization to occur must be wrong. But what is to take its place?
Are we going back to party Government in Canada or have the lashes been lost for good from the party whips? Blood is stirring in old veins these days while convention badges flutter from lapels once more and caucus doors are opening and shutting with all the secrecy of yore. Before this article will be in print a big Liberal Convention will have been held at Ottawa; perhaps a Conservative Convention will follow. Labor forces also are organizing as never before, and always there are the Returned Soldier and the Union Government which “raised particular hell” with the old party influences in the East just as the “independent movement” in the West has scattered the sandpile of the Liberal Parly or bids fair to do so. Things are going to happen and one thing sure is that the West is going to be right in the middle of whatever does happen. Which means simply that “those pesky farmers out West” will be found seated firmly upon their National Political Platform whether the said platform is erected ¡n the hall of one or other of the so-called national parties or in a special hall of its own. (Watch every party convention shape its planks to size ! )
Why ia the Farmers’ Party
UpO dig down and examine the character of the soil which has grown this new plant is quite in order. Why should there be a Farmers’ Party at all? Who are these Grain Growers ar.yway? What have they
accomplished? Where are they heading for and who’s their
The Grain Growers’ Movement began in 1901 in what is now the great Province of Saskatchewan when, at the call of W. R. Motherwell, of Abernethy, an indignation meeting of farmers was held and an association formed to protest against abuses in the grain trade. Since the early eighties the settlers on the prairies had been at the mercy of grain dealers and the railway. Conditions had become unbearable. In self-defence the farmers began to organize associations for mutual protection against the wholesale robberies of the combines in the grain trade by seeking legislative remedy. The movemnt was instantly popular and spread rapidly until it embraced nearly every farming community in the three prairie provinces, until there were over three thousand local associations. It took twelve years, this growth, and during that time many improvements in conditions were brought about as the direct result of the organized farmers’ efforts. Their whole attitude was determined by their experience. The tariff and economic conditions of Canada became the topics of long winter-evening chats and in the mind of the Western farmer grew a passion for reform. This assumed the form of an attack upon the old national policy of Sir John A. Macdonald, established in 1879.
To understand the greater independence of political attitude on the prairies it is necessary to remember the period of Government under the Territorial Parliament at Regina before the provinces were formed. Locally there were no parties at all then. Haultain was opposed by R. B. Bennett, although both became Conservatives afterward. In the early days, between 1887 and 1892, the Territorial Government and the Dominion Government were fighting over the control of executive authority. The Territories had no control of their finances and the real issues of responsible Government were fought for sternly by Senator Jim Ross, of Moosejaw, and Hon. Frank Oliver, of Edmonton. The spirit of the West was a bratherhood bred by pioneer conditions which had taught each man to depend upon his own resources and hisnearest neighbor. While the West stood solid for the interests of Western Canada and its development, therefore, people in Eastern Canada were being brought up under the personal influence of Sir John A. Macdonald, of George Brown and Laurier. Partizanship was inevitable. Liberalism and Conservatism in the East were known in terms of Laurierism and Macdonaldism, while the West looked at the issues rather than the men.
The independent attitude of thé Grain Growers, therefore, is a natural attitude. Within the provincial areas they have exerted their influence and the great contrast between some of the Western provincial legislation and the Fédérai legislation is a result. It is true that the Grain Growers’ organizations were brought into existence primarily to get a greater return for their labors, for the products they were marketing, and to this end they organized the great co-operative institutions which have become such a factor in the agricultural life of the West But that very act of organizing co-operative institutions with groups of from oÀe score to ten score individuals dotting the prairies has had the effect of creating an intei*est in public affairs. Community organization creates a more intelligent appreciation of political forms and of citizenship. The Grain Growers’ Movement, based upon co-operation, has created vast business interests, and concomitant thereto has developed a great school of political tiiought.
But what has so suddenly developed out of this school of thought the decision to enter into direct political action when the avowed declaration of the Grain Growers from the first has been: “We must
keep out of politics?” Analogy is found in the action of the Labor Unions in the Old Country. They, too, were organized primarily to improve conditions for the workmen in the matter of wages and working hours; but the time came when it seemed desirable to bring their ideas to bear more closely upon the life of the Old Country and the Labor Party thereupon was created. The Farmers’ Party is the political expression of the co-operative movement and the Farmers’ Platform on which it stands is the new national policy which the farmers believe sincerely to be the only solution of national problems at this time. The legislation which it advocates is not class legislation but national in scope, and the new policy is the outcome of long and careful and intelligent thought by men who have reached their conclusions through the hard school of experience. A more democratic administration of public affairs is the demand of the farmers, speaking on behalf of social progress. They have tried waiting for others to do something. They have got tired waiting, that is all.
The Germ of the Idea
IT was at the annual convention of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ Association in February, 1914, at Moosejaw, that the idea of an independent political movement on the prairies first manifested itself. It took the form of a resolution, strongly supported, calling upon the Gram Growers’ Association to undertake the promotion of a “third party.” At the time it was prevented from crystallizing by the influence in the convention of the Hon. Charles A. Dunning, now Provincial Treasurer of Saskatchewan but then manager of the Saskatchewan Co-Operative Elevator Company. He was ably supported in his attitude by the late F. W. Green, one of the directors of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ Association. The argument which they advanced was that the existing Government of Saskatchewan was in reality a farmers’ Government and that the farmers had received everything they had asked for, including the co-operative institutions which Hon. Walter Scott had given them. No action was taken,‘therefore, by the contention.
That same year the war broke out and distracted attention. During 1916 the Non-Partizan League, a farmers’ political organization which was flourishing south of the border, made a strong bid for organization and power in Saskatchewan, but it gained no headway, owing largely to mediocrity of leadership. In Alberta, however, the Non-Partizan League established a following and entrenched itself more successfully.
Now, Western Liberal members in the House of Commons were not blind to the trend of affairs on the prairies. They were trailing their fingers in the currents of public opinion at home and saw the inevitability of a new political party taking formation in the West unless one or other of the old line parties absorbed the demands of the organized farmers by in-
“ The Thread of Flame” is a new novel by Basil King, which will shortly commence in MACLEAN’S. It’s not generally known that this famous author is a Canadian: He writes MAC-
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eluding in the party platform the reforms and political policy which the farmers were advocating. The step necessary has not been taken—the bold step of declaring independence of the old line party machines which have Ottawa as the scat of office.
In 1917 the Liberals held a convention in Winnipeg and the opportunity of gathering behind them to the fullest extent this rising flood of progressive agrarian opinion was presented to the Western Liberals in the House of Commons. But the old Liberal whip gave one last crack and the follotyers of Sir Wilfrid Laurier were gathered into line. Once more the West had missed assertion of its independence at Ottawa.
Western Liberalism did not favor the Laurier war policy. Also it was felt that the Liberalism which attained power in 1896 had not fulfilled its economic obligation, a failure which made it all the easier to split into factions. Had the Liberals organized a separate Western group, determined to go to Ottawa to see the war through, to enforce the Military Service Act justly, at the same time reserving themselves for insistance upon economic reforms after the war was won— had they adopted this course their position to-day in Western Canada would have been undisputed. The Liberal Party would have had a brilliant rebirth, led by a strong Western group.
The Wreck of Old Line Parties
T TNION Government came out of the loins of the old ^ line parties for the purpose of carrying on the war. It was merely a formal union, because in no way did it merge the real principles of progressive Liberalism from the West with the more paternal elements of the older provinces. Well, the war is over and the Union Government has performed the work for which it was created. With the declaration of peace has come the era of reconstruction with its special economic problems. The mind of the West, therefore—especially that organized portion of it which is represented by tlxe Grain Growers’ Movement—has returned with greater vigor than ever to its demands for economic reform.
The Grain Growers looked over the wreck of the old line parties which the influence of the union had caused.
“The war is over,” said they to themselves, “and the vital difference that occurred between Laurier Liberals and Conscriptionist Liberals in 1917 has released the influences which were formerly exerted upon the Western provinces by the united Liberal Party. The restrictions which the war placed upon the formation of an independent party are absent. The road is open.”
The result has been that all the accumulated feeling of independence which has been growing during the past fifteen years has blossomed forth in the movement of the Grain Growers towards definite political action. It is an independence which is conveyed by
political sophistication that will refuse to turn aside for a red herring on a string or give emotional response to fervent pleas on extx'aneous issues, backed by the waving of the flag. For Westerners have studied the history of the political parties in Canada and they feel that when it comes to political principles there is little to choose between them—that Liberalism and Conservatism, too often in the past, have had the common objective of gaining office and shax'ing in the spoils thereof. Selah !
Thus it is that the Farmers’ Party is in the field. It is being organized as a separate arm of the Farmers’ Movement; so that its fate is not interlocked with the existing organizations in any way. Nevertheless it has the full backing of the powerful farmers’ business and educational institutions, both West and East. It has the same leadership that has piloted the Grain Growers’ Movement to its present place of economic importance nationally. In Alberta the new political organization is being fathered by H. W. Wood, President of the United Farmers of Alberta and of the Canadian Council of Agriculture. In Saskatchewan the outstanding figures in the new political organization are J. A. Maharg, M.P., Px-esident of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ Association, and Mr. J. B. Musselman, the Association’s energetic Secretary. In Manitoba, where the political organization is just getting under way, the Hon. T. A. Crerar, formerly Minister of Agriculture, is to the fore. In Ontario, the fourth fighting unit in this independent political movement, there are such well-known men as Drux'y, Good, Halbert, Morrison and others.
The Farmer’s’ Party movement has been confined so far to provincial boundaries in its organization activities. The final step will be taken when an inter-provincial convention is held to bring together these provincial units and unite them in a national organization. When that time comes it may be found that the Farmers’ Platform, which is really a new national policy for Canada rather than a farmers’ platfoi'm at all, has gathered supporters from so many diffei-ent classes that the movement will broaden out under the new name, “National Party of Canada.”
The organized farmers mean business in this political action of theirs and they do not px'opose to be sidetracked by offers fx'om other political parties. Certam Eastern interests are recognizing that fact already and hints that the Grain Growers are Bolshevistic have been made. This may be dismissed by pointing out the difference between Bolshevism and radicalism. The whole instinct of the farmer is opposed to disorder and unsettled conditions. He needs stability in his business of farming.
It may be well to remember in this connection that without the solid, sensible farmers’, organizations in Western Canada the Government would have had a fine time trying to reach a working basis in meeting the wheat market problems of the w’ar. Without the Grain Growers’ organizations they would have had to cope with a lot of howling cx'eatux'es on the prairies. Without the conservative element and the business institutions of the organized farmers Westexm Canada would be rampantly revolutionary.
What with the Liberals, the Conservatives, the Farmers, Labor, the Returned Soldier and Union Government it would appear as if Canada was in for an interesting time of it politically in the near future. It is to be hoped that everybody will keep in mind the national viewpoint and try “to bring ox’der out of ca-hoss.”