REVOLT Beyond The ROCKIES
THE POLITICAL capital of British Columbia is filled at this time of year with an unutterable peace.
In the cool offices of Government you will find men who don’t seem to have a care in the world, a boyish Prime Minister who seems to have shaken off worry by playing eighteen holes of golf at Oak Bay before breakfast, a Finance Minister with an empty treasury who can always find time to tell you about the fly fishing on the Cowichan last week-end.
As you look on the green, rose-scented gardens of Victoria, you can hardly believe that only a few months ago this capital was writhing in an agony of political evolution, was passing laws without precedent in a British country, was giving its Government dictatorial power to do all manner of dangerous things, was listening to wild men talk about breaking up Confederation.
It scarcely seems possible that only a short time back British Columbia had broken clean with the Government of Canada and threatened to default on its debt; that provincial cabinet ministers were stalking through the Château Laurier and talking magnificently about a "separate British Columbia economy;’* that desperate men in Ottawa and Vancouver were whispering the word "secession."
No, you oould never believe these things now, for Premier Bennett and Premier Pattullo, after a hectic estrangement, seem to IK* getting along better than ever. Yet there is no real satisfaction in this urgent young West. There is no real agreement between Victoria and Ottawa.
The essential problems, the real clash of ideas and attitudes remaina conflict which goes much deeper than party politics and much farther than current finance—a basic thing, partly human, partly economic, a challenge to Confederation itself which cannot be permanently evaded.
A New Idea
TET US SEE what has been happening out here this side ' the mountains so we may understand the visible events that have brought much deejxr movements suddenly to the surface.
To begin with, we had an election last fall and the Liberal Party of Mr. Pattullo won by a reasonable margin of votes from the Canadian Commonwealth Federation, the Conservative Party having conveniently committed suicide in a big way well in advance of the poll. The Liberal victory in itself was of no greater historical importance than the numerous party victories and defeats before it. But in winning, the Liberal Party had unloosed an idea which has altered the whole course of our Far Western politics.
Mr. Pattullo, a seasoned and able politician, a leader afire with reforming zeal and utterly confident of himself, altogether a considerable Canadian, abandoned the petty provincial issues of the past entirely. Instead, he went about the country advocating a great national scheme of recovery, public w'orks financed on the national credit to give everyone a job, a planned economy, a “socialized capitalism.”
At once some bright political mind conceived a slogan to cover this mighty programme, and suddenly the windows of every Liberal committee room shrieked the magic words, “Work and Wages.” Banners with this strange device streamed across the main street of every town and hamlet. Liberal sjieakers, most of them having no idea what they meant, shouted “Work and Wages” from every platform.
Instead of merely advocating a Dominion programme of recovery, the Liberal Party, before the week was out, found itself committed in the minds of the electors to providing work and wages for all the unemployed of British Columbia and prosperity f.*_ rest of the population. But how it was to be done, what Mr. Pattullo meant by the "intelligent use of the national credit,” most people didn’t know then and don’t know now, though the idea is beginning to dawn on them.
Since the election, politics in British Columbia have revolved around that tremendous promise of w'ork and wages financed by the intelligent use of the national credit —in short, a virtual revolution in our Canadian economic
Not in the least daunted, Mr. Pattullo asked the Dominion Government for loans to start his programme; but, as everyone had expected, Ottawa saw no reason why it should make good the election promises of a provincial government and a Liberal one at that.
The Provincial Legislature was in session. Mr. McGeer, who had been elected a Liberal but constituted himself a detonating one-man opposition, was lashing the Government with daily oratory for failure to make good its promises. Liberal members frankly dared not go home without having accomplished something.
Suddenly the Government—not without misgivings in high places resolved on a desperate step. Without warning, it introduced and rammed through its famous Special
Powers Act, of which you must have heard—a law conferring on the Cabinet virtually all the powers of the Legislature, a departure unprecedented, it is said, in the history of British Parliaments.
This act, stripped of all the fancy trimmings, had one real purpose—to enable the Government to provide work and wages if Ottawa refused to help; but just how, no one seemed to know. It was attacked on constitutional grounds. It was called an instrument of dictatorship. It was denounced by the Dominion Liberal leader, Mr. King, as the utter negation of Liberalism. It was highly disruptive to the Liberal party in the West.
But the real danger in it, as a matter of practical politics, was the fact that the Pattullo Government, having taken these all-embracing powers, had bound itself to provide some results. It knew that it was staking its life and the future of its party on this single move. If there were no rabbit to be* pulled out of the hat, then the Pattullo Government would be in what you might call an embarrassing position.
However, the Special Powers Act enabled the Legislature to go home to its constituents and assure them that, with this magic instrument, all would be well. And the Pattullo Government, which had to perform the magic, started the second time for Ottawa, while Canada wondered what the new Western dictatorship really amounted to.
It was a fateful mission. For two weeks Mr. Pattullo and his colleagues waited for the Dominion Government to loan them about seven and a half million dollars for ordinary expenditures and many millions more, as much as possible, to provide w'ork and wages. As a powerful lever to secure this loan, they let it be known quite frankly that if they didn't get the money for current expenses, British Columbia couldn’t pay the interest on its debts this year.
Everyone knows what happened. Mr. Bennett refused to loan Mr. Pattullo a nickel until he had revised his entire budget and cut dowm his deficits. Mr. Pattullo refused to surrender his control over provincial finance. Mr. Bennett stood pat. Mr. Pattullo boarded the train and was just starting out for home, after two weeks in NewYork and Washington, when he went back suddenly to Ottawa. There, both sides having had time perhaps to cool off and think it over, an agreement covering the current financial difficulty of the province was achieved. Mr. Bennett agreed to advance about ten million dollars for current account, the two extra millions to refund a maturing Provincial loan, but no money for work and wages. Mr. Pattullo accepted the compromise. Mr. Bennett’s retreat was remarkable, so remarkable indeed that many British Columbians have not yet realized that Mr. Pattullo didn’t get nearly all he asked for in spite of his insistency and perseverance.
But that is not the end of the trouble. That merely gets Continued on page 26
Revolt Beyond the Rockies
Continued from page 16
us by for the moment, pays our running expenses. The promise of work and wages, the basic policies of the new deal—all these remain. In the satisfaction of conquering the immediate difficulty, British Columbia has almost forgotten that all this in a sense is routine, that the real purposes of our political upheaval have yet to be fulfilled. We are still only where we started in these larger matters.
A Province Apart
nPHE LEGISLATURE and the public, when they realize all that has happened, will expect much more. The plain fact is that British Columbia, as represented by its Government, is working, or is trying to work, on an entirely different economic theory from that of the Dominion Government. It has endorsed, if its legislature can speak for it, fundamental changes in our whole system such as no party in Parliament except the C. C. F. is yet prepared to undertake. There is a spiritual and economic isolation here which cannot be covered over permanently by temporary agreements between prime ministers.
Regard for a moment the grim line of the Rocky Mountains. They look obvious enough on the map and you cannot fail to note their considerable height and substantial girth as you pass through them on the train. But there is more to the mountains than rock and glaciers. This is not merely a physical obstacle to transportation, not just an uphill freight haul, expensive to railways. This is a mighty barrier between the thought and outlook of British Columbia and its neighbors. Ideas, as well as railway trains, travel slowly through the mountains.
It has always been that way. Remember that we came to British Columbia first from the south, not from Canada. We started as a tiny colony on Vancouver Island, and Canada was a vague legend east of the mountains, beyond the empty plains. Our business was with San Francisco, our trade north and south. We were alone out there on the coast and only the construction of the C. P. R., after years of bitter wrangling, brought us into Confederation at all - and with grave doubts.
Deeply engrained in our history was the idea that we were on our own, that Canada really didn't think much of us, that to practical politicians in Ottawa we were just fourteen seats in the Commons as against the big blocs from Ontario and Quebec. We have had pretty good reason to think so. In an economic sense we think we have paid dearly for our share of Confederation, even though it has been abundantly worth while. Anyway, through the years from these isolated beginnings we have built up a spirit and an attitude of our own which no one from east of the mountains can fail to observe — not exactly a hostile attitude, not a feeling easy to define, but a way of life.
For one thing, we have been richer than our neighbors on the prairies, a little primitive jierhaps compared with the people of the East—living hard and high and dangerously and liking it. There is a rough comradeship, an informality and carelessness about life out here that surprise and then delight the Easterner.
As the British Columbian looks over his province—over the dark, immemorial forests of the coast, over the rolling range of the interior where the sage brush smells clean and pungent in the moonlight, over those irrigated valleys where the leagues of orchard ripple like white foam in the time of blossom, over the hills that bulk on every horizon, over the black canyon where the Fraser River flows like brown molten metal and the stars hang close to the rim in the summer nights—the British Columbian, an arrogant but friendly soul, tells himself that there can be no other country like this under the sun.
Between ourselves, that is true. And this fact and the attitude it breeds are a tremendous intangible in this whole business.
When times were good, things went along with us smoothly enough. We had more
than we needed of everything. We didn't worry and we didn’t save. The world’s best gambler, we spent and built and played— wildly, with a splendid gusto and the innocence of a child. We built Vancouver into Canada's third city, its second port. We built roads and railways and institutions and fancy hotels. We went in for social services on a scale which startled the rest of Canada. We piled up a debt of about 170 million dollars. And we woke up one morning last spring to find that more than half our revenues were needed to pay our debt charges, that we were going behind six or seven million dollars a year, that we couldn’t borrow a cent from anyone.
British Columbia, one of the earth’s richest fragments, was broke—like a prodigal billionaire who can’t realize enough on his frozen assets to buy Ins breakfast.
Disadvantages of Confederation
NOW British Columbians, who had never worried about these little things before the crash, began to ask themselves what was the matter. They had been reckless and spendthrift, of course, but that didn’t seem to explain it all. There was some deeper cause. They began to examine the economic structure of the nation, to assimilate a few obvious facts generally overlooked during the fat years.
The British Columbian, looking out across the mountains, began to say to himself:
“It is natural perhaps that the prairies should be hard up when they have only one crop and grain prices are low. But we have almost everything we can use. We have lumber, minerals, fish, foodstuffs of all sorts. Trading them for manufactured goods, managing our own affairs, we should always be prosperous. But, instead we have to sell them in a cheap world market, against the competition of such nations as Japan and Russia with their low living standards. And when we buy manufactured articles we must buy them behind tariff walls in the protected East, in Ontario and Quebec. We pay high prices. We get low ones. We are being strangled to fatten the East. Confederation simply can’t be held together on that basis.”
An obvious set of economic facts surely, but we’re just getting them through our heads out here, now that we have time to think during the depression.
There is no room here for figures, but take one item: British Columbia buys its automobiles in Ontario at prices far higher than it could buy them for in Seattle, just across the border. It pays these high prices, created by the Canadian tariff, so that Ontario industries may be protected. On the cars now using the roads of British Columbia, we have paid, according to the Provincial Government’s official calculation, at least $25,(XX),(XX) more than we would liave paid for them in Seattle—either to help Ontario or to swell the customs receipts of the Dominion Government.
Added to the enormous premium we have paid on our clothes, shoes, furniture, almost every manufactured article that we use, you will see what kind of a toll we have carried.
In return, we market little in the East. Our products are sold almost entirely in world markets or, to a less extent, on the
prairies. Here, in addition to the heavy visible taxes of the Dominion Government, is an incalculable volume of invisible taxation and an economic drain not shown in Government blue books which, we feel, justifies us in asking temporary aid from Canada in our temporary difficulties.
The New Radicalism
THERE IS more to the present tension, however, than geography and tariffs. There is a new radicalism in British Columbia which recently hit the consciousness of Ottawa with a sharp and resounding impact. Practical politicians, for example, cannot overlook the fact that the Socialists secured about a third of the votes cast in the last Provincial election and at one time threatened to win it. British Columbia farmers— including those charming English country gentlemen who grow apples in the Okanagan Valley and talk in the accents of Oxford— are the fathers of the new Federal marketing act, are insisting that they must pool their income, and cannot realize that they are proposing, and may achieve, a minor revolution of their own.
Did you know', too, that the Provincial Legislature, Conservatives and all, unanimously approved of a complete economic overhaul of the nation, the nationalization of Government credit, and the use of it to launch a huge programme of recovery all over the country? This in the staunch old Tory province of British Columbia!
True, a large proportion of the people don’t know what it is all about. True, some powerful members of Mr. Pattullo’s Cabinet have no use for such policies at all and wish they had never heard of work and wages; but these are the policies, in general, of the Liberal Party. And the C. C. F., more powerful here than anywhere else, regards them only as a beginning.
How all these great things are to be accomplished is another story, the story of monetary reform which is breaking out in all nations in one form or another, even in the staid Association of British Chambers of Commerce, and will not be denied. We can’t go into these things here or into Mr. McGeer’s version of them, but, rightly or wrongly, British Columbia, regardless of party, has moved sharply to the left.
The leftward movement is not mere talk and political manoeuvre, although they figure largely in it. The policies already inaugurated by the Provincial Governments are only less radical than the socialism of the C. C. F. and would have been unthinkable a few years ago.
It has passed law's governing hours of work and wages for everyone and is vigorously enforcing them—the first attempt of this sort in the history of Canada.
It has set up a “brain trust” of experts to advise it on economic reforms of all sorts.
It has promised to institute within the year a system of health insurance, public utility control, and sweeping social legislation in other directions.
It has refused to cut down its public services simply, as it says, to serve the bondholder.
It has endorsed orderly agricultural marketing, with legal compulsion.
It has taken power to call in its bonds, regardless of their terms, and refloat them at lower interest rates, paying off those who
object in cash—provided it can find the cash.
Mr. Pattullo sums it all up in his phrase “socialized capitalism,” which is, pretty accurately, a local version of the new deal of Mr. Roosevelt—the hero and inspiration of the Provincial Government.
The Bogey of Secession
NOW ALL this cannot fail to make British Columbians think they are not in step with the older parts of Canada, w-hich look on such radical notions with alarm. As usual, British Columbia has stepped ahead with its natural impetuosity and is impatient at other people who prefer to move more slowly.
Such tensions and strains, of course, are increased a thousandfold in hard times. Perhaps they will disappear automatically if and when good times return. But in the meantime they are too serious, in a national sense, to be treated lightly.
Mr. Pattullo left behind him on his return here from Ottawa a long chain of newspaper interviews urging the solidarity of Confederation and denouncing disruption. But the public has not forgotten his frequent statement, and the constant assertion of lesser persons, that British Columbia could be prosperous, could double its population almost immediately if it controlled its ow'n affairs. These are strong notions to put into unthinking minds. The natural reaction of desperate men is to demand that if wè can do all these things alone, we had better start right away—mad counsels, of course, but insidious.
Not long ago, while the controversy raged hottest in Ottawa, the Vancouver Sun, organ of the Pattullo Government in Vancouver, made people’s flesh creep with a front-page editorial, double-leaded and ominously black, bearing the caption: “A
Dominion of British Columbia.”
“If we are forced to it by Eastern Canada,” shouted the Sun, “we can separate and pay our own way and go it alone; and we can be sure we will have 100 per cent British support. . . There must be a more equitable sharing among Canadians of things Canadian, or else this province must look about in self-defense, to find ways and means to federate these parts into a Dominion of British Columbia.”
Thus was the old bogey of secession dragged forth again. Fortunately no public man of responsibility is behind any such movement, but Mr. Pattullo’s reiterated attacks on it show that he, like all others who understand British Columbia, knows how quickly these things can travel.
We have had it all before, and almost got out of Confederation as soon as we were well intoit. The first locomotive came through the mountains just in time to keep us in the Canadian partnership. When one of the chief British Columbians in Parliament says that a plebiscite on secession would favor it by four to one even now, he is probably exaggerating, but to ignore these ultimate possibilities is foolish. Perhaps the reasonable way to put it is that we don’t think this union can be held together permanently on its present lop-sided basis.
Well, then, what will satisfy this restless young province behind its wall of mountains? Most British Columbians couldn’t answer that offhand, for up to now their resentment has hardly had time to crystallize into definite plans. Certainly they don’t want a hand-out from Canada. They want to carry their share of the load and a real opportunity to do it.
They want some kind of a revision of the nation’s economic structure—in tariffs, in trade, in currency and a-edit — to enable them to use their own wealth which lies, waiting to be used, at their door. Moreover, while all men’s minds nowadays are in disagreement on actual methods, all have been convinced that such a revision is possible, that we could all be prosperous if we used our heads. That conviction is the most significant, perhaps the most hopeful thing that has come out of the depression in tire West.