The Problems of Our Provinces

The Third of a Series of Ten Striking Articles

JOHN NELSON June 15 1923

The Problems of Our Provinces

The Third of a Series of Ten Striking Articles

JOHN NELSON June 15 1923

The Problems of Our Provinces

The Third of a Series of Ten Striking Articles


III. The Prairie Provinces and Their Problems Concluding the Prairie Series

IT IS a truism that the history of modern Canada is the history of

immigration. For several decades that immigration has centred chiefly on the plains, where free or cheap land has formed a lodestone not only for the American settler and for men from within the Empire, but for the perplexed resident of continental Europe. In the more or less rough and ready methods whereby we brought these people to Canada, a selective system was not matured, and as a result some rather acute problems now confront those in administrative authority in our provincia: governments between the Lakes and the Rockies.

Canada's immigration policy was, in the main, based upon our experience w ith Nordic peoples. They were the first wave which swept overseas. Having much in common with our own ancestors, they yielded more readily to the process of assimilation than those from mid-Europe and southern Europe who have constituted of late such a large proportion of the new settlers.

The great trek, which was an outstanding feature of Canadian affairs from ten to twenty years ago, has been checked by both economic and political conditions. One of those has now disappeared, though the after swell of the Great War continues to a degree to discourage immigration. But in the recurring cycles of economic depression and expansion, the tendency is to-day toward those better conditions under which immigration always attains its maximum.

And this factor of possible immigration is a constant one in the plans of the provinces. They have a double concern. One is to create economic conditions which will retain such settlers; the other to create educational and social conditions that will Canadianize them.

Premier Greenfield is disposed to be more impatient, under the first head, than is either of his brother premiers.

“The problem in this country,” he says, “is to get it back to a basis where the farmer can make enough not only to make both ends meet but to set aside a nest egg for the future. Once we do that we need not bother about our emigration policy. But if we bring in settlers under present conditions we are simply pumping water into a pail with a hole in the bottom: it runs out as fast as it comes in.” That is what he thinks.

Premier Dunning has been an immigrant lad him3elf. At seventeen he homesteaded far from urban comforts, sleeping in a rude hut he had built with his own hands. He is not dismayed by economic conditions, whieh he regards as temporary, and to the solution of which he is bending an inflexible purpose.

Neither is Premier Bracken. He declares that the farmers’ dollar is worth only seventy cents as compared with 1912. He insists that equipment is relatively higher than before the war.

“But we must keep on getting more people, and keep on improving conditions,” he says.

Formerly land was high

priced, now it is very low, and the immigrant, while he comes in under some conditions that are unfavorable, catches the low drift of the land market. In the surveyed area of Manitoba alone there are six and one half million acres of land not in farms. The average size of a Manitoba farm is 288 acres. Allowing a half section (320 acres) to a family, there is room in the surveyed portion of Manitoba for 20,000 addidional families, or roughly 100,000 more people. And

there remains four times as much land in the province unsurveyed. In the other provinces there is more room still.

The Peace river district will ultimately furnish homes for as many settlers as there are now in the three


Apart from what the future years may bring from Europe to these plains, there are enough there already to tax the national digestion. Manitoba is fairly typical of all, and here a careful survey has disclosed that only 57.7 per cent of the total population is of Anglo-Saxon origin. The remainder are grouped under several classifications or types. Of these over 14 per cent, are Slavic; 10 per cent. German; 7 per cent. French and Belgian and 4.5 per cent. Scandinavian. Where the Saxon predominates assimilation soon occurs, but where colony system is maintained racial customs, language and religion yield slowly to western impact. A chart of Manitoba shows in the south eastern sections great blocks of solid German settlement. The northern sections show greater areas still solidly Slavic. Density of population, in the main, distinguishes these midEuropean settlements as compared with those in which English-speaking races predominate.

Menace of Polylingualism

HE problem among these people is that of bringing them under the influence of Canadian education. In pursuing that policy the authorities have been constantly confronted by the menace of polylingual instruction in the schools. Scattered settlement imposes heavy per capita obligations in each rural school district—obligations which the foreign-born show little enthusiasm in accepting. The latter, too, prefer teachers of their own nationality, but it has been found that staffing schools with nationals of the same racial group as the children is not a success. No matter how highly trained in English, the teacher is under constant temptation to revert to mother tongue for purposes of instruction or explanation. In face of many difficulties the authorities are adhering to their policy of producing a composite type through the agency of our English speech.

Where the racial “bloc” is not allowed to function, the receptivity of these foreign-born children to our manners and tongue is remarkable. Major David Duncan, assistant superintendent of city schools in Winnipeg, cites one striking case. In the school in question he found that out of 1,230 pupils there were'more nationalities represented than there were Anglo-Saxon children. In faetthere were only eighteen of the latter and there were thirty racial types. While in the primary and junior grades the facia! distinctions were marked and unmistakable, yet curiously enough by the time they had reached high school entrance the influence of play ground, study, and environment had wrought not only a mental change but had standardized facial expression until the task of distinguishing Canadian from European was very difficult indeed.

This does not apply, of course, to the Asiatic, who has not yet penetrated in sufficient numbers east of the Rockies to make his presence the cause of any great alarm. Yet it is said that 600 Orientals cast their votes in Edmonton in the last provincial general election—a phase of electoral life which is causing sagacious men to consider how far the franchise should be extended to those incapable of identifying themselves with our problems and ideals.

Those who regard instruction in the Christian religion as basic in national life will be as much concerned in the fact that in one province a report prepared by the United Farmers shows that 75 per cent, of the rural communities have no religious services of any description as in the fact that southern Europeans bring with them their priests and rituals. There would seem to be a mission for the evangel of the Ford car in Alberta, as there was for that of the saddlebags and the circuit rider in the early days of eastern Canada.

Abiding Love of the Land

TplIE leaders of political thought throughout the West are showing a quick appreciation not only of the difficulties which this foreign population presents, but of the spirit as well as the method by which these difficulties must be met. A great number of these settlers are frugal. Most of them are industrious. If they are not always truthful in speech, or honest in method, perhaps they are not always met in a spirit of fairness or of frankness. Many of them have a deep and abiding love for the land. It is noteworthy that in one of the provinces where a survey was made tenancy was more prevalent in the Anglo-Saxon communities than in those of foreign peoples.

“The Canadianization of the non-Anglo-Saxon is a problem which the province must face and in doing so it must not be forgotten that each of these races has some contribution to make to our civilization,” says Premier Bracken. “The process of Canadianization must not be one of repression, but a real assimilation in which their contribution shall not be left out.”

The same statesmanlike view is held by Premier Dunning. “We have in this province,” he says, “Canadians of varied racial origin with traditions and ideals

differing widely. Only by mutual tolerance and good will may we hope to mould a future Saskatchewan citizenship preserving within itself the nobler attributes of this generation.”

Behind all the plans and policies and hopes of the West there looms a spectre that will not pass. How are the debts of those who are in the financial depths to be paid? Many are so deeply involved that nothing short of a remission of some of the debt can afford real relief. Some think the governments should help. Some want to start provincial banks. Others believe that a financial plan can be evolved whereby present overhead and indebtedness already due can be spread over a long term of years. These say that the modern farmer is like any other business man who must undertake heavy initial expense, and must have his obligations deferred somewhat on the lines adopted through bond issues for financing industrial enterprises.

Should Government Help?

Í INDER the latter head government assistance or guarantees is generally presumed. But in the attitude

of the governments there is little to justify that hope. In most of the provinces there has already grown up a line of charges against the land — charges for taxes, seed, grain, municipal and supplementary drainage, destruction of noxious weeds, hail insurance, school tax, hospital tax, telephone, wild land tax, and cow tax— that in some instances cover a dozen priorities against land or crop.

The mortgage companies will stand no more. The banks have no enthusiasm for government benevolence.

So, when the United Farmers of Alberca proposed some radical financial heresies in their annual convention,

John E. Brownlee, the attorneygeneral, was forced to go before them and point out that as the government was the creation of the United Farmers and the policies of the latter might be regarded as government policies as well, their proposed action would greatly embarrass him when he sought a loan of some $13,000,000 the following year. Indeed there seems as little disposition to unsound finance in this government of the or-

ganized farmers as in those of the less radical provinces. The Alberta minister of agriculture has issued notice that the day of free seed from the government is over. “There is no such thing as easy money,” he declares. “It is a misnomer to say that the government can pay fo" anything; it is the state that pays.”

The Premier of' Alberta holds the money lender and the money borrower equally responsible, and the adjustment, he insists, must be a matter of mutual agrangement between them. This is his attitude:

“The West is suffering today from over-expansion, in both rural and city districts. In the good years of 1915-

1916 credits were too free. Banks were offering money freely to farmers, and they took it, largely in the interest of expansion for war purposes. We now have to pay the bills for this over-expansion and we’ve got to pay it in the hardest times the farmer ever struck.

“Farmers in those areas where there has been no crop for from three to five years are in bad shape. Many are still solvent, but they cannot meet their immediate liabilities. The beginning of the way out is for banks and mortgage companies to realize that they loaned too freely, and that they have got to absorb a percentage of the loss.

“It seems to me that it should be possible for the principal mortgage companies, implement companies, banks, and other creditors to get together with the debtors and provide for repayment on an amortization plan. It looks like an extreme step, but I believe the creditors will collect more in that way than they will by a system of recourse.

“This cannot be done by government assistance. It must be by agreement between debtor and creditor. It w’ill help materially in holding people on the land, putting confidence in them, and by removing the immediate


INDER Mr. Greenfield’s government, however, a relief act has been passed by which the government commissioner must be notified before foreclosure proceedings are started. A judge then appraises assets and liabilities and decides what the farmer can pay, and still maintain himself. In Saskatchewan a somewhat similar arrangement exists though it has not the moratorium features of the Alberta law'. Here again the authorities are urging upon creditor organizations a partial remission of debt in those cases where the settler is disposed to abandon his homstead. Other cases were made the subject of a conference betw'een the Mortgage Loan Association and the government. It was found that the bumper crop in Saskatchewan last year 240,480,000 bushels) valued at $200,000,000 was not sufficient to pay the accumulated debts of six lean years. The creditors accepted the situation and agreed to abide by the arrangement recommended by the government commissioners as if they had the force of law. During the last season 4,300 cases were dealt with under this arrangement involving debts aggregating $16,000,000. In a very small percentage of cases wras the situation found incapable of adjustment.

The government of Saskatchewan also operates a system of farm loans to ease excessive burdens and to assist farmers to make improvements when they are unable to do so without raising a loan on the security of the land. Since the Farm Loan board started operations in 1917 it has loaned in this way nearly $9,000,000, involving more than 1,500 farmers. The loan is made for a period of thirty years on the amortization plan. On $1,000 the annual payment of principal and interest is $76.58. The government finds its funds, not through savings banks as is done in some other countries but by the sale of Greater Production Farm loan bonds, bearing five per cent. This money is re-loaned at six and one half per cent, thus covering handling charges. These bonds are in denominations as low’ as $20 with interest payable every six months. They are thirty year bonds but are redeemable by the holder on three months’ notice to the Treasury.

liability from their minds help to re-establish their morale."

Partial Debt Remission

Nearly $2,500,000 worth of these w’ere taken up in 1921. The effect of this plan has been to hold ordinary mortgage rates dowm to a reasonable basis, and to keep in the province large sums in interest earnings w’hich would otherw’ise go elsew’here.

In Manitoba the savings bank systems of accumulating monies for such purposes has been adopted. This plan is better adapted to a province with a large industrial centre such as Winnipeg where the pay roll of the manufactories forms a very attractive field for the operations of a savings bank.

New Political Doctrines

A S THE western provinces opened * to Canada a newT agricultural epoch they are furnishing also a new chapter in the political development of the Dominion. The soil was fruitful for such a development. It had no old traditions. It had new’ problems. From the South it had drawn many of a radical political school. From Europe came thousands with no sentimental attachments to existing parties. Even the eastern Canadians who went west severed their old associations. The character of the country gave it common needs and common aims. The diversity of Continued on page 47

Problems of Our Provinces

Continued from page 19

interest which the more complex life of eastern Canada provided was not present. And with the pressing problems of the last ten or fifteen years there has come a drift toward political action, as a sequel to the co-operative movement for economic reform.

It is this phase of western life which today first challenges the interest of the student. It is the phase which occasions most comment in other parts of the Dominion. It cannot be understood if it is not considered in the light of the other problems which have been treated in these articles.

The movement assumed definite and comprehensive form in the years toward the end of the war, when more than one group was seeking a new national policy. An ambitious movement, headed by men of outstanding ability, had launched something with such a motive, in the East. It was rather distrusted by the farmers, who scented high tariff, and protection. Their answer was the Canadian Council of Agriculture with its broad basis of free trade. It was intended to embrace the four central provinces. But it met with general acceptance from the farming class throughout the Dominion. It is noteworthy that Alberta, which of late has gone farther than all the other provinces, for a time remained out of the new movement. And the man who kept them out was one who later was to become the apostle of political action, and of group government, H. W. Wood.

The history of the Progressive party at Ottawa since that time is current history. It reached its maximum power under Hon. T. A. Crerar, who some months ago resigned the leadership, Mr. Crerar is described by a newspaper friend as “simply a Geo. Brown, Alexander Mackenzie, Cartwright Grit.” There is much to justify the suspicion that he sees nothing incongruous in an ultimate alliance with the Liberal party. Many of his followers feelthesame way. But their constituents keep a firm rein upon them and permit as little departure as they can avoid from the trail upon which the party has embarked.

Provincially the movement has some interesting variations. In Alberta it has attained power as a class conscious group. In Saskatchewan, where the farmers’ movement originated, it has attained less material power than in either of the other provinces. The Manitoba situation lies somewhere between that of its two neighbors.

When Bracken Was Drafted

IN THE last-mentioned province it ran a successful, but leaderless, campaign, assumed power and drafted the head of the agricultural college, Mr. Bracken, to lead it. He did so with great reluctance. Report says that in the happy little domestic group of which he is the head there were many tears shed on the night that he renounced the congenial and quiet atmosphere of the college halls for the dust of political conflict. Though he heads a government elected by farmers. Premier Bracken takes broad ground as first Minister. “I am not a farmer representative,” he will say. “We look on Manitoba as a whole. Of my ministry of six, three are from the city. We superseded the Norris government, which was nearly all farmers. We can never cure our economic ills at Winnipeg. If these are to be remedied by politics, it must be at Ottawa.” His idea of government functions, provincially, is to put the productive side of agriculture on a better basis.

There is a story that after his third caucus, and after having jieard some of the more radical of his supporters insist on certain extreme measures, the premier quietly suggested that these things might wait until the new government was secure in the saddle and that if his party were not disposed to use that measure of common sense, he would resign forthwith. His action at once stilled the voices of discontent, because it is well known that Mr. Bracken’s presence in politics is far removed from any element of ambition.

It must be admitted that there is little connected with the administration of affairs in Alberta to suggest that the . government in power owes its life to the class conscious movement. It is extremely interesting to see the contrast between the doctrine of the Progressives as enunciated at their annual convention, and its practical working out in the government pile at Edmonton. It has been the custom for the U. F. A. convention to present its annual findings and recommendations to the government of the day. This yeár that government was one of its own political complexion. But it showed little less receptiveness than former administrations.

Better Than it Sounds

THERE is already evidence of that sobering sense of responsibility which is inseparable from government. Many members of the Legislature, including the premier, have given no pledge of their resignation on demand to a committee of their constituents, and were not asked for it. Each constituency has complete autonomy within itself. The constituency organization is composed of the U. F. A. locals within its boundaries. In each constituency an annual convention is held at which the member gives an account of his stewardship, besides visiting as many locals as possible during the Year. These locals are the primary unit of government. They subscribe the election expenses of their candidate. One member paid $10.00 and another $100.00 for his election. It cost the Attorney-General $25.00.

Progressive Government in Alberta resembles Wagner’s music, of which Joe Jefferson declared that it was much better than it sounded.

Even Hon. Mrs. Parmly, (a grand niece of Capt. Marryat) who is a Minister in the Alberta government, warned her electors that she reserved the right after taking office, to change her mind, as every woman should. She is a vindication of women in politics—reserved of speech, effective in debate, womanly in deportment, and sane and sage in counsel.

“I would take her judgment on any subject as quickly as that of any member of my government,” says the premier.

One wonders, (even Hon. Mrs. Parmly admits that she does) what form farmer government will ultimately assume. H. W. Wood, of Calgary, its protagonist, is a man of conspicuous ability with a bit of the mystic in his make up. He is a student of the Apocalypse, and sees in the new heaven and the new earth there depicted, what he wants accomplished in Alberta. He is an evangel. His followers have the fervor of fanatics. He addresses them in leaflets issued regularly from Calgary, telling what he thinks. The government issues bulletins telling what it does. Between them there is much to talk about in the locals.

"The whole foundation of the farmer movement in Alberta,” says the premier.

"is to build up a responsible citizenship. An intelligent electorate is the first step in responsible government. I believe the farmers are the best posted class in Alberta. Business men have been too indifferent . Farmers have been too ignorant. If they hadn’t been, governments would never have got away with what they have got away with in the past.”

Dunning, a Youthful Premier

T111LE Mr. Wood has been working out his theories in Alberta, and is now facing their final test, an entirely different process has been going on in Saskatchewan. Here a young Englishman, still on the sunny side of forty, who was identified with the farmer movement before Mr. Wood came up from Missouri to Canada, is carrying on government on the old and accepted lines. He is a Gladst onian Liberal. He is a firm believer in British constitutional practice, with parliamentary responsibility. And he sees nothing incompatible between that position and his vigorous support of the farmer economic movement. Before he was twenty he was a boy statesman in the farmer conventions. As a mere youth he ran their big elevator system. He attends their convention every year as the representative of his little local. They always ask him to speak, and they give him a good "hand,” for he is their product, and they are secretly proud of him. But he talks plainly to them.

"I don’t think Mr. Dunning cares what we think,” commented a delegate after a noisy altercation.

‘T care a lot what you think, but not what you yell,” was the retort.

At their last convention he told them he would not appeal to them to refrain from recommending any form of legislation, as an Albertan minister had done. They were told they could adopt what they liked. The government would assume responsibility only for its own acts.

‘‘Saskatchewan is the birthplace of the farmer movement,” he says. “Its educational and economic features originated here in 1892 in the Territorial Grain Growers Association before the province was created. It followed the Patron of Industry movement and Motherwell was the first president.

"But it was founded on a non-political basis. It was open to all regardless of race, religion, or political belief. This is the source of its power. Through its educat-

ing and debating facilities it has fitted many men for municipal and political life. My own opportunities for public service came through it. Its future, I regard as a purely economic and educational force. In this province the farmer movement represents advanced Liberalism and the tendency of the majority is against making it a class or political organization. In this respect it differs from both Ontario and Alberta. The membership, even, is not restricted to farmers. Any local may decide its own basis of membership, and may admit or decline to admit non-farmers.

“I strongly object to setting up a political test in an organization that is nonpolitical.”

Hon. Mr. Dunning’s view is interesting because it is likely to be challenged. Forces are constantly at work which may project the farmers of his province into such a political relationship as exists in other provinces. In this connection it may be mentioned that the membership of all three farmer organizations has declined materially of late, though this is usually attributed to hard times. The U. F. M. numbers 15,701; the U. F. A. 18,820; and the S. G. G. A. 16,508. These totals appear small compared to the total rural population in the three provinces of 1,250,000.

A public man of more than ordinary shrewdness declares that political disappointment, and the necessity for maintaining a grievance, lies behind much pessimistic talk on the plains. He says that it is noticeable that breeders’ unions agricultural and allied societies are much more cheerful than those of political or semi-political parties among farmers.

Such is the situation on the prairies. It will undergo many changes as prosperity returns, and immigration increases. The day may not be far distant when the most of the Canadian people will live west of the head of the Great Lakes. Ere that time arrives doubtless “time and the ocean, and some favoring star” will have contributed to the solution of many of the difficulties which at present seem so formidable. But the greatest contributors to that happy outcome will be the men and women of these plains who to-day are facing some perplexing issues with the confident courage which has made of the race the greatest colonizers of the world.

Article four will appear in the July 15 issue.