Canada Has Exceeded Objective

T. B. Costain September 1 1918

Canada Has Exceeded Objective

T. B. Costain September 1 1918

Canada Has Exceeded Objective


T. B. Costain

CANADA has exceeded her objective! Some time ago, on the occasion of the late Lord Rhondda’s last visit to America, a conference was held between the three modern Josephs—Rhondda, Hoover and Thomson. The wonderful Welshman, who has since laid down his life in the service, pointed out that the Allies in Europe would need a certain quantity of food from this side of the Atlantic in order to “carry on.” The situation was carefully considered and a schedule was drawn up of what would be needed from Canada and the United States—so much wheat, so much beef, so much bacon, ect.

And Canada has passed her objective. She has supplied ' more than was asked of every kind of essential food; and is going to go on supplying more.

This satisfactory showing is due primarily to the spirit with which the great public of Canada has accepted the food restrictions. Directly, however, it can be credited to a hard-working branch of the hastily constructed machinery of waf government which is known as the Canada Food Board.

Canada’s first experience in a food controllership was not a particularly happy one and this was not in any sense the fault-of the brilliant man who accepted the onerous post and struggled manfully with it. Hon. W. J. Hanna had no chance to make a success of the controllership for two reasons. The first was that he had no power; the second was that the ■people of Canada were in no mood to be controlled. The second was the real obstacle.

The public, in fact, had the most perverse idea of what a food controller was for. They thought that he was appointed to make it easier for them, to keep down prices and insure a regular supply of everything and to generally add to the sleek comfort of the civilian population.

As a matter of fact, the duty of the Food ■Controller was, and is, quite different. It was summed up with charactertistic terseness by Mr. Thomson in the course of a conversation with the writer the other day.

“We’re supposed to keep the Canadian people out of the trough,” he said.

And that is what it amounts to. The Canada Food Board strives to save enough food here to meet the deficiency in the allied countries in Europe. If that is accomplished nothing else matters. Make things easier for the housewife by fixing the prices of foodstuffs? It would be nice — but what counts after all is sending forward a uniform supply to our needy allies overseas. As a plain matter of fact it is not the duty of the Food Board to make things easier for the people, but to make things harder— to educate, to inspire, to insist on the production and conservation of food. The Canada Food Board is the buckle on the belt that Jack Canuck has voluntarily strapped around him. Nothing was heard of the matter until one day several weeks later a stranger walked into the office of Mr. Tod, Mr. Hanna’s Chief of Staff, and preempted a chair. He was big enough to measure six foot four in his stocking feet, and had a voice that had been trained in the coastwise trade.

HE Canada Food Board has succeeded in its objective largely because the public has gradually come to see things in the proper light. The older clamor about prices has died down. The newspapers have stopped printing tables of figures to show that liver costs 214 cents a pound less in Tallahassee than it does in Toronto, and what is Mr. Food Controller going to do about it? The people of Canada have learned that the Food Controller is not a servant to minister to their wants, but a taskmaster, with powers to enforce a systematic patriotic abstinence.

Behind the Canada Food Board is the forceful personality of Henry B. Thomson. The finding of Thomson was almost accidental. G. Frank Beer of Toronto, who has been looking after the fish end of food problems, came in contact with him in the course of his investigations on the Pacific Coast. “There’s a man named Thomson out in B. C. who’s worth having,” he told Ottawa. So Ottawa, needing men who could get things done, wrote a letter addressed to Henry B. Thomson, suggesting that he call at the Food Controller’s office at his earliest convenience.

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“I’m Thomson of B.C.,” he announced. “You wrote me. What did you want?” “Your services,” replied Tod. “We want you to take a desk down here and help us.”

“A desk’s the last thing in the world that I want,” replied Thomson. But he took it. They sent him down to Washington first to look into a new and anxious development in regard to the sugar supply for Canada. He two-fisted his way through the muddle and brought back a satisfactory settlement in no time. What’s more, he left them in Washington just as satisfied. Thomson’s diplomacy was of the let’s-get-down-tofacts variety, which Uncle Sam understands.

Thomson was just one of the staff at first but he made himself so felt that, when Mr. Hanna stepped out and the Canada Food Board was formed, he was made chairman. Since that time very considerable things have been done. The licensing system has been inaugurated, hotels and restaurants have been rigidly regulated, and a form of moral conscription has been introduced to enforce conservation of food in the home. The policy of the board has been an admirable mixture of compulsion and education.

Thomson’s directness of method has been a distinct factor in getting the food situation in hand. An incident that occurred some months ago illustrates this. A deputation had come to Ottawa from the Maritime Provinces to discuss the possibility of a new service for carrying fish on the Intercolonial. The fishing interests, the railroad interests, the distributing interests, all manner of interests were represented. It followed that the discussion, when they all got into the Controller’s office, was both lengthy and involved. Tonnage, schedules, packing, and rates were discussed for good two hours and the air was blue with figures. Finally, Mr. Thomson brought his huge fist down on his desk with a thump that compelled attention, and asked:

“Gentlemen, just what is it that you want?”

One of the deputation managed a succinct statement of the service that was desired.

The chairman turned to the railroad representative and demanded :

“Can you give this?”

There was a moment’s hesitation and then the railroad man replied, “Yes, we can give it.”

“Then the whole matter’s settled,” said Thomson, with another thump of his fist. “Go home, gentlemen. It will be attended to.”

And it was.

''THE offices of the Food Board are _ located in an old hotel building on Rideau street. It is a rather ramshackle place but the best kind of use has been made of the space and it has become a veritable hive of industry. Room after room is crammed full of busy stenographers and the rattle of the keys pursues you everywhere. In little cubbyholes of offices down twisting corridors earnest officials are busily at work behind huge stacks of documents. A casual visitor might say to himself: “What’s all the fuss about? What are they all so busy over anyway? Surely it doesn’t take so much fuss and feathers to decide that us common people can’t have more than one slice of bread for lunch and that vermicelli soup is nutritious.”

As a matter of fact, that department is seriously overworked. Down in Washington Hoover’s department is just about as big as the whole of the Government machinery at Ottawa. Each decision arrived at means a great amount of investigation before and a whole world of detailed arrangement later. There are provincial committees and local committees by the hundred to be consulted and kept in touch with. There are legal points to be untangled, multitudinous detail in connection with the granting of licenses, prosecutions to be followed up and watched, deputations to be received, mail to be read by the sackful and answered by the thousands.

JUST consider this matter of mail alone. Writing to the Food Controller has become a national pastime. He is the confidant of the housewife in Vancouver and the recipient of the abuse of the irate fish-and-chip restaurateur of Halifax. A day’s mail registers the whole gamut of human emotions. Here are some samples from one batch that has just been dumped in by the mail

“My neighbors tell me that you have ordered all hawgs to be slaughtered by Aug. 1. I have two young hawgs. To slaughter now will rob the Allies of at least one hundred pounds of meat. Please advise.”

“Is it true that no marriages are to be allowed after this year because bachelors will have to keep on eating in bearding houses and restaurants where there are food rules and thus eat less?”

Dear Mr. Food Controller. Have you looked into the matter of whale meat? The whale is wholesome and fattening. I figure one adult whale would feed a regiment in France for 23% days and all the fat could be saved for oil.” “When are you going to stop the eating of olives? Our boys at the front have to subsist on bully beef, and it’s a shame that we at home, etc.-”

“I have a new kind of substitute for wheat that will save the Allies from starvation. It is made mostly from sawdust and is very nutritious. ...”

One day of it and the average business man would reach his hat off the peg and make hasty tracks to the boiler factory or the counting office! These Food Board officials have to draw upon deep reservoirs of tact and patience; and the amount of detail that passes through their hands is astonishing.

To review what the Food Board has accomplished during its half year or so of service is unnecessary because every step has been undertaken in the full white light of publicity and the whole programme is well known to the public who live up to it—or rather, down to it. It is sufficient to say that a system of restraints, some iron-bound and legal, others merely suggestive, have been erected around the production and sale of food on the one hand and the eating of food on the other. The farmer still runs his farm as he jolly well pleases and raises such crops as he sees fit, but the manufacturer of food has to operate under a license. If the Food Board saw fit it could probably close up many factories now running, and dispose of the raw material thus saved in any way it saw fit. The' baker and merchant are also licensed and any infringement of the regulations would cost them iheir licenses promptly and inexorably. There are real restrictions also on the consumer. Meals in hotels and restaurants are subject to restrictions and rules, picnics may not be held in the old way, supplies of such essentials as sugar and flour may be purchased in restricted quantities only. The pressure laid on the consumer has been for the most part, however, of an educative nature.

The burden that has been imposed upon us has not been unbearable, in fact not even heavy. Nevertheless it has been effective and to-day it is a new feather in Canada’s cap that we have exceeded our objective.

AS for the future, it may be that the Food Board will find it necessary to come down on us a little harder. One thing is certain, however. The officials know the situation fully and have a thorough appreciation of the fact that drastic measures that might upset existing conditions. Nothing rash will be done.

It is very doubtful if Canada will ever reach the stage where compulsory rationing is either practicable or necessary. Canada is too big. Imagine issuing bread tickets to the people of a country over 4,000 miles from coast to coast! What system could be devised to keep tab on the larders and the dinner tables and the lunch pails of eight million people thinly distributed over a continent? The Food Board considered this problem on a business basis and found that the cost of operating such a system would be eight million dollars a year and that a whole army of officers would be needed to keep it running.

It is certain, however, that a greater strain will have to be placed upon us if the needs of our allies, growing more exacting all the time, are to be met. Canadians must be prepared to take up another notch or two in the belt.

Now that the public has gained the right angle on the food control problem it is not likely that there will be any difficulty in exceeding any new food objectives that may be set.