What Goes On Here?
This is I he first of a series of articles in which from lime to time a number of Canadians who study the affairs of their country will voice their thoughts. These articles will express individual viewpoints, not necessarily the viewpoint of Maclean’s. The opinions may not be acceptable to everyone, but they will be provocative of thought. Bruce Hutchison, author of this first article, is a well-known Pacific Coast newspaper man and parliamentary correspondent who travels this Dominion a great deal.—The Editor.
LATELY I have been taking a look at Canada. I have been talking to lobster fishermen down on the Bay of Fundy, and boat builders as they hammered calking into stout new hulls, and to retired sea dogs out of sailing ships, in weird little inns that were taken straight out of “Treasure Island,” were full of ghosts and shook all night in the wind. I have been in the parliamentary corridors of Ottawa and in the inner holies of the Bank of Canada, and in the homes of Quebec peasant farmers, which are painted up and shiny like a child’s toy box, and in the bare houses of ruined wheat farmers out West, and in antique English homes on Vancouver Island, whose fine old inhabitants still live in England and eat here.
After a good look at Canada, at the real living substance and breathing, urgent stuff of it, and then at its pale reflection in Ottawa, I have come to two conclusions: First, Ottawa doesn’t know what is happening in the country; second, the country doesn’t know what is happening in Ottawa, or what is happening to itself.
We are, I suppose, the most inarticulate people in the world, we Canadians. We cannot talk to one another. Our government is afflicted with a chronic state of lockjaw and its publicity men have long since despaired and hurled themselves into the Ottawa River. Our government cannot carry a blazing torch; it can hardly strike a match. It has no more sex appeal than Donald Duck. The consequence is that, for all the torrents of figures, statistics, press releases, statements, budgets and blue books issuing out of Ottawa, this country has no real idea of what is going on.
By that I don’t mean what is going on from day to day, what laws are being passed, what regulations, orders-incouncil. I mean what is going on deep down in the body of the nation, and I believe that far more is going on there than we have begun to imagine—that the whole structure, organization, system and living ways of Canada are being shifted, changed and re-made not for the war alone, but for all time.
Precisely what is happening, I don’t pretend to know. A few scholars may know, but they can’t explain. Many local prophets can explain, but they don’t know. However, if you get away from Ottawa for a while, from figures and charts and mere shadows, and into the soil of the country, you begin to glimpse, in terms of human beings and actual life, some of the stresses, strains, pressures and upheaval which,
by the time the war is over, will have largely re-made Canada.
At the end of the single ragged street of a Quebec village is a candy shop, where all the children’s nursery rhymes must have been written. It is littered with candy, biscuits and toys. An old lady out of “Alice in Wonderland” stands behind the counter, peering over old-fashioned spectacles, and the children, one by one, file in shyly with their pennies to choose a lollypop out of the big glass jars.
It was there that I listened to an oration by M. Charpentier, an old man with a mane of white hair and a bristling outer fringe of white whisker. He spoke in French, of course, but spoke so simply, and with such graphic gestures that I could understand, in general, what he was saying. Picking up the latest newspaper from Quebec City, he pointed to the name of Hitler in the headline and then, for ten minutes by the pendulum clock in the comer, M. Charpentier gave us his opinion of the Fuehrer, and we all listened, the old lady blinking with alarm behind her spectacles, the wide-eyed children sucking their lollypops.
There was nothing cheap or hackneyed about M. Charpentier’s discourse, no mere calling of names. The old man had the eloquence of his race—with nuances and overtones of invective too subtle for me to grasp—and he ended, both fists clenched above his head, with: “Butchery for the sake of butchery, blood for the pleasure of blood, murder for the joy of murder !” Then he sat down and filled his pipe.
'T'lIERE, in this fantastic candy shop beside the St.
Lawrence, you see better what is happening to one part of Canada than you will ever find out by reading the Hansard of Parliament. There, and all through the little towns and farm houses of Quebec, you will find a feeling about the war that would have been thought impossible two years ago. A year before the war it was thought in Ottawa that if war came it would split this country at the line of the Ottawa River, that we would be a broken nation when the first gun went off. Plence the compromises, gyrations, painful twistings and ostrich flight of our politics from realities.
But the expected disaster has not happened. There has been no trouble in Quebec. This is by far the most remarkable current fact in our nation, but how many Canadians west of the Ottawa River have ever stopped to think about it? How many have grasped the importance of what has happened against the background of what was expected to happen? How many have realized that the two great races of Canada are closer together now than they have been since 1914 because, for the first time, both of them have recognized a foreign danger?
Few have seen this as the first big Canadian thing emerging from this war. Many politicians and journalists are still talking about Quebec in the terms of the last war.
United States magazine writers seem to be getting their information about Quebec from the newspaper files of 1917. But there is something still more important here, if we have the sense to grasp it, and act on it. This war has brought not only unity on the war issue; it has brought us our first real opportunity in this generation to solidify that unity for the future. It has given us a foundation to build on, a new understanding between French and British, a sudden realization that we own this country together, jointly, and if we don’t learn how to live in it, to manage and protect it, somebody is going to take it away from us some day.
There is the first great basic change in the living stuff of Canada. If we fail to understand the opportunity, it may not come in our time again.
Just before the sowing began I talked to a wheat farmer on the Regina plains. He insisted on taking off his old, ragged coat and laying it on the muddy running board of his truck so that we could sit there, out of the wind. All around us the prairies lay in flat, lifeless immensity, waiting for the sudden surge of growth. The farmer—an old man now in patched overalls, small, lean, with leather face and shrewd eyes—picked up a handful of mud from the road side and rubbed it between his fingers. It was, he said, the best land in the world, went down thirty feet, pure, black muck, inexhaustible food for wheat.
Soon the farmer would sow the ground, working from dawn to dark, and he would wait for the wheat to grow, watching the sky daily for rain. For seven years he got no crop, for the land cannot yield without moisture. Then, when the rain returned, there was no market for wheat. Again he sows this year, but he must sow less by government order, if he wants to sell it, and then he must sell at a price that means no real profit. His machinery, patched up year after year, is almost falling to pieces. His house needs a new roof. He needs new overalls. All the other people around here—he pointed to the few stark houses that leaned like scarecrows against the wind—were on relief. So far he had managed to keep going, mostly by raising chickens, but he didn’t know how long he could continue. He had only one son left now to help him and this boy, he thought, would go to Ontario and get a job in a factory.
Shift of National Balance
THIS is the second basic and incalculable thing that has happened to Canada—the whole historic balance of the country is shifting.
From the running board where we sat that day we could look out over the largest single fact of Canadian life, our Prairies that have been our greatest producer of wealth, on which the entire economic system, the factories of Ontario and Quebec, our export trade, our living way, have been built. Always our politics have turned on this pivot, and the pattern of this nation has been a struggle and a
compromise between the protected, manufacturing cities and the unprotected, world-trading Prairies. A kind of rough balance had been struck which might vary a little from time to time, but never changed as much as you would think by listening to the speeches of our political campaigns. Now the balance is endangered, for the Prairies cannot sell their wheat, the thing on which we have all lived, even if we ate no bread.
It had begun to happen even before the war when, for the five years 1934-38 inclusive, our average wheat exports were only 176,046.860 bushels. We have never faced these facts. We are not facing them now. We are not facing the problem of this ragged farmer on the running board of his truck, of the Prairies, of the nation. We are marking time and hoping that the world market may return after the war. Perhaps this is all we can do, because no one knows what the peace may bring. Yet, day by day, while we think we are freezing the situation, and holding our old position until peace returns, the balance shifts, the old delicate balance between the land and the factory.
In a small part of Ontario and Quebec, and in British Columbia, we are now building giant war industries. In shipyards, machine shops, airplane factories, I have watched the new generation of skilled Canadian craftsmen at work and, flying over Canada at night, you can see the glow of the workshops that did not exist a few months ago. The first world war started to industrialize Canada. The second world war is completing the process.
The problem of finding work, in peacetime, for regular factory workers who have been making war goods, is obvious to everyone. Not so obvious is the fact that we are putting hundreds of thousands of new workers into industry who will remain there and must be employed.
Thus the farmer finds his position in the nation weakened. The factory worker grows stronger than he. The protected, manufacturing areas, become more dominant in our politics and in our fundamental national policies than ever—the labor union stronger than the agricultural cooperative. Population drains off the land into the towns and there is nothing in the history of our machine age to suggest that it will drain back again. All evidence so far is to the contrary, everywhere.
Even that is not the full extent of the change. We have lived in Canada chiefly by selling to two markets, Britain and the United States. More than any other important nation we have existed on our export trade. But now we find Britain unable to pay for our goods—we are shipping them to a great extent, and properly, on credit. We get no comparable goods, wealth or money in return and, even if we could get them, we would not admit them because of our tariff policies.
In our second great market, the United States, we are earning no profit, but only a deficit —buying far more than we sell. Thus clearly the whole historic basis of our economic existence has been removed, for the war period
at least. Who will say that it will ever return in its old form? Who will say that Britain will be content to go back to the old bargain by which she sold us but a third of what she bought from us? And who knows what the Hyde Park agreement may mean in the permanent change of our trade with the United States?
In Washington they think what Longfellow called “long, long thoughts,” about these things. I have talked in Washington to men of the first rank, whose names are a
More is going on here than we have begun to imagine, says this observer. Deep down in the body of the nation the whole pattern of our lives is being re-made
household word all over this continent, and they talk not merely of a small bargain like the deal at Hyde Park, but of a new continental economy, the end of the insane competitive arrangement by which Canada and the United States have constantly impoverished themselves for more than fifty years. That is a long, long thought, but who knows what may be necessary in the combination of Canadian and United States resources before the war is over? Who will say how far such an omelette can be unscrambled?
Two things are sure—first, Hyde Park is but a beginning, and the United States, at least, is prepared to go much further having learned, for the first time, that the stability of Canada is essential to its own safety; second, in the very act of achieving this new collaboration, we are creating obstacles to its continuance after the war. We are, in fact, building up in Canada today gigantic new industrial
interests which will want protection after the war, which will want the Canadian market for themselves, whose workers will want to make goods that we could and have imported from the United States. And when these interests can make tanks and guns and shells no longer, then we shall feel this new pressure, this new and incalculable factor in our national politics, economics and life. It is hidden now, but it will appear in due course—the greatest basic change since the Prairies were opened at the turn of the century.
The farmer beside me picked up another handful of earth and rubbed it between his fingers to show me that it contained no speck of grit. All around us lurched the unpainted houses where children have stayed home for lack of shoes, while other parts of Canada are undergoing the greatest boom in history. “This,” said the farmer, rubbing it between his fingers, “is the best land in the world.”
“They Was Soldiers March in’ ”
IN A BUS between Digby and Yarmouth I eavesdropped on two old women, one of whom was Mother Goose in disguise and the other the Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe. “War?” said Mother Goose. “This ain’t war! Why, last war I mind they was soldiers marchin’ everywhere, in uniforms, and bands playin’ and all.” And the lady out of the shoe replied that nobody seemed to be doing anything about this war.
In Duncan, on Vancouver Island, which is reputed to be more English than Trafalgar Square, a retired colonel told me that people weren’t buying War Savings Certificates because Canada wasn’t doing enough, giving enough, or shipping enough, to Britain.
Everywhere you go there is a complete misunderstanding of Canada’s war program. The government may not have done enough, or done it well enough—that I, for one, will not pretend to judge. But it has done far more than it has been able to tell the people, far more than the people have begun to suspect. The government simply lacks showmanship, and now-a-days it seems that you must have showmanship even if you have no show. We have a show, but we don’t know it.
This would be of no terrible importance if it involved only the future of a single government or political party. Unfortunately, it involves much more than that, for the chief enemy of our war program today is the fact that it is not understood—nor is the cost of it. Mother Goose and her friend, and countless Canadians, measure our program by the number of soldiers in uniform, because they are thinking in terms of the last war. The Duncan colonel, and millions of others, do not understand that we are giving away a large part of our income as a people, and rightly, to Britain for nothing. Arid almost nowhere in the whole country have I found that people understand how they
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must pay for what we are doing in the war. Everywhere demands for more effort, more expenditure; nowhere readiness to pay for what we have done already.
Willingness to pay, yes, and willingness to sacrifice. But not readiness to pay now, because no one has been able to explain to people, in a way they understand, that we cannot carry our present war program and still maintain our ordinary standards of living. It is all very well for Mr. Ilsley to heave his figures about the House of Commons, all very well for Mr. Towers to make his excellent speeches. The people do not know yet what it means. Budgets are too big for them to grasp, figures pall, and billions mean little to a man who earns a hundred dollars a month. Yet he, the little man, must pay for the war, because in his millions he has the money. The biggest job of Canadian statesmanship is to make the little man understand. He must understand, first, what we are trying to do in our war program, what we actually are doing, where the money is going—and then he must understand why he must meet most of the bills.
But here something much more lasting than the war is under way in the living tissue of Canada. Perhaps, indeed, it is the most fundamental thing of all. Since this war started our nation has learned to mobilize its resources as never before, to create factories, put men to work, and to use the tools of money, of regulation, of government management, for the purpose. Our economic system today is under the control of a few men in Ottawa. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing we have no space here to argue, but it is the fact, good or bad.
We have done things never attempted in the last war. We have financed a vast expansion of output without inflation. We have found out things about money that we never knew as a nation before. We have found that, given willingness and intelligence, we can all work to make guns. Now will anyone suggest that a people who have learned thus to make guns will be content to sit down after the war, jobless and hungry, because they cannot think up a way to make houses, automobiles, radios, bath tubs, roads, and every form of usable thing? Any prophet who tells them that they must go back to the depression, any political party which proposes that we sit down on the curb, idle, and tough it out as we did before, will be pushed aside by the procession. ,
We may demobilize munitions factories. We may demobilize Army, Navy and Air Force. We may repeal all the War Measures Act and all the government’s orders in council, boards, tribunals, and regulations; but we shall not demobilize the people’s minds, and the people know now, something they suspected but never
knew for sure before, that a nation can produce goods, that men and materials can be brought together, that if we can have guns in wartime, we can have butter in peacetime. All our politics, all our economic calculations, all our foreign trade, will be based after the war on that discovery, but it is heady wine indeed, and we could easily lose the whole value of what we have learned in our attempt to make it work.
WHAT will come of all this—industrialization, wheat problem, war taxes, shifting foreign trade, new understanding with Quebec, new deal with the U.S.—I do not try to guess. Nor do I know the solutions. Nobody knows them. But I do know that they will require from Canada a readiness to face facts, as they exist after the war, such as we never showed before; a readiness to alter our whole trading and tariff arrangements, even with temporary sacrifices, and to get our goods moving through the world again; a readiness to undertake large shifts of population. I do know they will require a willingness to give the other fellow a better chance than we were ready to give him before, a willingness to accept sacrifice, taxes, inconvenience and more interference with the usual course of our lives. I do know that out of this war we Canadians must learn, as the British have learned, as we have hardly begun to learn, how to live together. I do know that we must accept change.
This, of course, is all part of a much larger process than Canada—part of a world-wide revolution. Revolution, however, has become a commonplace, crisis a mere monotony, and people are moved by them no longer. The government, too busy with its own business, cannot put anything of real importance into blazing words that stay alight, into pictures that register.
Thus, as a people, we are not yet ready —not through lack of courage or patriotism, but through lack of understanding— for the mighty days that lie ahead of us.
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