WELL, HOW DRY ARE WE NOW?

A Review of Canadian Newspapers’ Editorial Opinions from Coast to Coast

November 15 1920

WELL, HOW DRY ARE WE NOW?

A Review of Canadian Newspapers’ Editorial Opinions from Coast to Coast

November 15 1920

WELL, HOW DRY ARE WE NOW?

A Review of Canadian Newspapers’ Editorial Opinions from Coast to Coast

CANADIAN newspaper editors by no means see eye to eye on the moral, social and political effects that may follow from the carrying of bone-dry prohibition in the three prairie provincesand Nova Scotia. There is possibly a little more unanimity of opinion on what may happen in the wake of British Columbia’s decision to handle liquor under government control. Taking editorial opinions by and large, it is evident that operation of the new legislation will be closely observed in British Columbia in contrast with how things turn out in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Optimism, hope, bitterness, scorn—almost the gamut of human emotions—exhibit themselves in the pronouncements of editorial pens from coast to coast.

The Toronto Globe is certain the vote for “bone-dry” legislation in Ontario later on will be quite as emphatic as it proved to be in the West. In Ontario, the Globe points out, there will be no “such confusing question like that in British Columbia, where the Government must now go into the liquor business via a system of public dispensaries.” Stress is laid on the Western vote as a proof that there will be no “inevitable reaction” on the liquor question in Canada as hoped for by the “wets.” The Gfo&e comments on the Maritime decision as follows, taking a.final rap at the present Federal administration:—

“In Nova Scotia there was a general emphasis on the ‘dry’ side, outside of Halifax, that tells its own story. When points like Glace Bay, Sydney and Sydney Mines vote overwhelmingly for prohibition it is time for the ‘wets,’ who weep crocodile tears for the workers, to turn their sympathy in other directions. In Manitoba the foreign divisions of Winnipeg and its environs seem to have rallied to the standard of the ‘wets.’ But the smaller cities and towns, and above all, the rural sections, where the folk work hard and think much, have taken the advice of the Farmers’ party and voted for a prohibition law as near to perfection as it is possible to secure.

“It is to the everlasting shame of the Meighen Government that Ontario was denied the right to keep in line with the progressive elements of the Prairie Provinces and Nova Scotia at this time.”

“There is more whiskey consumed in this city and elsewhere than before the present prohibition law came into force,” on the other hand is the frank declaration of the Kitchener News-Record, which proceeds to condemn present-day prohibition with this impeachment:—

“It not only fails in its primary object of lessening drinking, but it makes liars and thieves and law-breakers galore. If a measure of government control is a remedy for these evils, then let us have it. It will be infinitely preferable to the present disgusting condition of affairs and would probably meet the wishes of a great majority of the people. It is better to legislate on lines parallel with those of public sentiment than to be too far in advance of it.”

The fact that women “seem to have voted as strongly as men in favor of government control in British Columbia” strikes the Saskatoon Star as one of the most remarkable features of the vote on the liquor question in that province. The Star explains this result as “due to the choice offered being unsatisfactory, and between two evils they chose the lesser.” The Star looks upon the British Columbia vote as a set-back to moral progress:—

“For the first time in recent Canadian history, a province asked to express by the ballot a choice between “wet” and “dry” laws has voted “wet.” The temperance cause that has made such wonderful progress in Canada in the last ten years has suffered a severe set-back. The voters of British Columbia, men and women both, seem to be opposed to prohibition as it has been known in that province. They favor, instead, the establishment of government stores at which liquor may be purchased by the package.” Regarding current doubts as to whether the “bone-dry” fiat of the western provinces can effectively be carried out or not, the Regina Post feels sure the people will insist on the government leaving no loopholes for violations, though previously frankly admitting the immense difficulties in the way of enforcement:—

“The Government has now a legislative measure enabling it to control the drug-store traffic entirely. When pro" hibition of importation becomes effective it will be able, i* it is willing and energetic, to put a complete stop to illicit sales on a large scale, and to make life uncomfortable indeed for those who persist in trying to sell it on a small scale. It has the machinery and it has every possible legislative assistance.

“The people are going to look to the Government for results. The vote on the referendum has shown how they stand on the liquor question, and they are going to hold the Government to strict account for the manner in which the views of the overwhelming majority are carried out. The vote represented an angry protest against conditions as they are now, and a decisive intimation that they want these conditions bettered by an effective enforcement of the prohibition law.

“They left no room for excuses, It is now up to the Government.”

The Fort William Times-Journal asserts that the effect of the prohibition vote in the West and in Nova Scotia does not solve for all time to come the question of the right to purchase strong liquor, adding that nothing that follows from these dry votes can hinder any of the provinces from legislating with regard to liquor in any way that seems fittingtothem, “since,” as the Times-Journal points out, “the administration of the liquor traffic is purely a provincial matter.” Present regulation in the West is far from satisfactory; the paper adds:—

“No fair-minded spectator of present conditions in all the dry provinces can help but admit that they are far from being ideal from the standpoint of temperance, and the importation legislation passed in the four provinces on Monday is merely an experiment, to discover whether the situation can be amended by more drastic measures, rather than by such relaxation of the dry legislation as has been adopted in the Pacific coast province.”

The western pronouncement leaves no doubt as to what the people want, says the Montreal Star, but the small votes polled in the prairie provinces are merely another illustration of our unfortunate indifference to public questions of great importance, in the Montreal paper’s opinion. “There is every reason to be satisfied with the referendum,” the Star declares, insisting that

“It has enabled each province to decide for itself what it wants—the only safe basis for similar legislation in any country. Under it Quebec and British Columbia have decided on a plan quite different from that of Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Liquor legislation will, therefore, in all these cases rest upon a firm foundation of popular demand.”

“Sobriety Wins,” is the caption of a Hamilton Spectator editorial, which comments on the “significance in the fact that the country districts (in the prairie provinces) pronounced so decisively in favor of the abolition of liquor importation” and goes on :—

“If there is any place where the reputed virtues of alcohol should be appreciated, it is surely on the farms, where men work long and hard, exposed to the rigors of the elements. The wonderful specific has been rejected by them, however; it is the most unkind cut of all.”

The Spectator thinks a new national fibre is growing strong to resist the temptations of the social glass:—

“It is impossible to misjudge the national sentiment on the liquor question. Large portions of Canada are temperate to the point of abstinence. Trial has been made of partial prohibition, and as a result of that trial it has been judged a good thing, of which more is needed. Sobriety wins—it is a splendid augury of Canada’s future.”

The Toronto World facetiously touches on the subject:— “Returns from the prairie provinces would indicate that in Canada it’s going to be a long way between drinks— Quebec to British Columbia, no less.”

The Hamilton Herald raises strong doubts that the recent western vote will provide any pathway of roses for the temperance forces to make progress over, and expresses the belief that the people of the Canadian provinces who have voted in favor of “bone-dry” prohibition, because they were dissatisfied with the limited measure which permitted the importation of liquor for domestic use, will find the new law no more satisfactory—and probably less so than the old one. Prefacing a plea for a two-question referendum, the Herald interprets the western vote in this

“The voting yesterday showed that a very large minority of the people, approximating half the total electorate, is not in favor of the extreme policy of making unlawful the use of alcoholic liquor as a beverage. That fact is sufficient indication that there are going to be very lively times in the four provinces if the law is to be strictly enforced.”

In the Herald’s opinion the people of British Columbia have shown good sense in deciding in favor of the restricted sale of liquor under government control. “There will be much less illicit traffic in B.C. than in any of the prairie provinces or in Nova Scotia. When the Ontario referendum is submitted next spring, the people should have the privilege of choosing between “bone-dry” prohibition and a system of strictly regulated sale under direct government control to citizens holding registered permits, and without doctor’s prescriptions.”

The Woodstock Sentinel-Review enthusiastically declares that the Hamilton Herald is not alone in its belief and continues in this vein:—

“There was dissatisfaction with the partial measure of prohibition; just as there is dissatisfaction with a similar measure in Ontario. It placed restrictions on the moderate use of liquor; it opened the way to abuse. It discouraged the use of beer and encouraged the consumption of the stronger liquors. There was a good deal of illicit traffic and the illicit traffic was chiefly in the strong beverages.

“There is no reason to believe that it will be any easier to enforce “bone-dry” prohibition than it has been to enforce partial prohibition. There is good reason to expect that the illicit traffic will flourish more defiantly than ever. And it will be an illicit traffic, not merely in strong drink, but in poisonous stuff, the product of illicit stills.”

Almost immediate possibilities for absolute prohibition from coast to coast in Canada are hinted at by the London Advertiser:—

“Since the vote last year there has been a feeling that a bone-dry law will carry in this province, but the extinction of the liquor traffic in adjacent provinces will assure the prospects of enforcement in Ontario. It is clear that the bone-dry idea is no merely local fad or accident, but deepens to a settled conviction and conclusion all over the Dominion, except in the isolated and thinly-settled region west of the Rockies and in the Province of Quebec.

“Even the two wet spots have a very uncertain future. They may be only a mirage. The solemn pomp of a government stingily measuring out rough stuff to the isolated denizens of British Columbia, and thirsty tourists from farther east, the attractiveness of the Pacific province to undesirable immigrants may conceivably pall on that oasis. Even Quebec may tire of a complete isolation amidst the North American desert.”

The Port Arthur News-Chronicle finds that the centers of dense population in the western provinces “like their drop ’ too well to be entirely enamored of bone-dry legislation, but

“The rural sections offset this desire by giving substantial majorities against allowing importation. As a result the big interprovincial trade that has been carried on in alcoholic beverages will be a thing of the past within the next sixty days.”

Nor does the News-Chronicle find that, the Nova Scotia vote was quite all that the temperance forces might claim it to be:—

“It was generally expected that Nova Scotia would return a “dry” majority, but even in that province cause for mild surprise is furnished in the nature of the vote recorded in the mining divisions, where majorities were given against the importation of liquor.”

Continuing, this New Ontario paper says:—

“Now that the three Prairie Provinces have decided definitely what they desire, an understanding should be arrived at between them and the Inland Revenue Department as to a division of responsibility for enforcement of the act prohibiting the manufacture of liquor save under license.

British Columbia papers place varying interpretations on the results in that province. Says the Vancouver B or Id: “Supporters of the prohibition act labored under several handicaps which, judging by the vote, proved fatal to their hopes. Under the provincial law they were powerless to prevent importation and an effort to get the last legislature to invoke the Dominion safeguards in that particular was voted down. The scandalous non-enforcement of the law doubtless aroused wide resentment, because it fastened responsibility upon the act that belonged to the electors, It is infallible political practice that the way to secure the repeal of a bad law is to enforce it, and the way to repeal a good law is not to enforce it.”

The Vancouver Province believes the vote an out-andout public condemnation of the prohibition act and adds: -“As the record stands, it cannot be taken otherwise than as a clear and definite statement that the British Columbia people are at present in opposition to the, principle of prohibition. Anyone is free to discuss the question whether they are right or wrong. But the fact is that after three years of the statutory prohibition, they have 'said they do not want it any longer.”