OUR INVISIBLE POOR
The paradox of poverty: the expanding gross national product we so proudly hail as the index of our affluence has inflicted a startling backlash of poverty on millions of rural Canadians
FOR FIFTEEN YEARS I have covered the success story that is Canada. I have reported advances in agriculture, lumbering, fishing and mining that within the memory of people still living have transformed a frontier country into one of the wealthiest of nations. Automatically 1 have written from this orthodox view of progress. Five years ago when Wabana Mines, which takes iron from an undersea tunnel at Bell Island. Newfoundland, met the problem of lower-grade ore with new machinery. 1 reported this as another step ahead. Like most people, 1 assumed that higher production benefits everyone.
Higher production is the creed of North America. Journalists are imbued by it, economists obsessed. Businessmen base their decisions on it. Politicians think it ensures re-election. When someone says, “Things look good.“ it is seldom assumed that he means in medicine or art: the economy is central to our thoughts. And its chief index, the Gross National Product, which measures the value of all our goods and services, is the most important figure in our existence.
A rising GNP, we believe, gives the average person a higher wage, which narrows the gulf between the rich and the poor. It creates more jobs and pays for more social security. It piles up profits and savings for new investment and research, which in turn pushes the GNP ever higher. The GNP is our measure for the entire mystique of democracy: equality, opportunity, freedom from want and fear, the well-being of the average Canadian.
But paradoxically, an ever-increasing GNP can, and does, lock some people into poverty. Last year I was asked again to report on Bell Island, twelve square miles of barren thin-soiled rock. Production was up but fourteen hundred miners were out of work, and some badly needed medicine, warm clothes or bedding. Some houses were boarded up. abandoned. But most of the jobless were still there, without money to leave and without hope, for the nearest employment office in St. John’s, twelve miles away, listed thirty thousand people unemployed. Higher production brought poverty to the rural community of Bell Island.
"Poor” in 1965 does not mean what it did in the 1930s. Today a family may use an outdoor privy yet own a television set. Big new' cars may he parked beside log cabins. Few Canadians are poor as people are poor in Pakistan or Korea. In this affluent society we do not let people starve. But if a family cannot afford the kind of housing, clothing, food, medical care and pleasure that the rest of us now take for granted, then by our Canadian standard that family is poor. continued overleaf The nine men who run ARDA, the Agricultural Rehabilitation And Development Administration, set up in 1961 by the federal government to fight rural poverty, calculate that a minimum standard takes three thousand dollars a year, or if one is a farmer on one’s own land, a yearly gross of twenty-five hundred dollars. On this a farm family may net a thousand dollars and. if they keep a few' chickens, kill a pig now' and then, milk a few cows, can some vegetables, cut their own wood, make their own truck repairs, do without a pleasure car. send the children to school in threadbare clothing, run the risk of going without health insurance, give up holidays or recreation, they can, if their taxes are low, exist.
Existing at this level, hy ARDA’s latest count, are five hundred thousand rural families who, with our city poor, add up to at least one fifth of the nation. In the Thirties we knew poverty, w'e could comprehend their existence. Not now—w'e have lived too long with the myth of progress. We look at them in Newfoundland outports and Nova Scotia harbors with eyes that see only the quaintness. Their concentrations along the tourist-traveled curve of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the lower St. Lawrence, the Gatineau and the Rouge, are veiled from our awareness by the countryside’s picturesqueness. They are hidden along the back concession roads of Ontario, in the shadow of Ottaw'a north of the Seaway, around Belleville, along Lake Erie, throughout the Bruce Peninsula. the northern Ontario Clay Belt, Manitoulin Island, the lake country north of Winnipeg, the marginal land of the prairies, and the forest fringes of British Columbia—at least two and a half million rural people whom poverty renders invisible.
Some are aged. Some are handicapped. Some are Indians, Métis or Negroes. But most of these rural poor are merely obsolète. Machines are replacing them by the thousands in fishing and lumbering. The new testtube synthetics have depressed the price of furs, relegating thousands of trappers’ families to hovels. If half our farmers left the land, an ARDA survey shows, the other half actually could produce more.
In a steady stream these rural poor are migrating to the city, competing with the city poor for cheap housing. Between 1956 and the 1961 census almost two and a half million Canadians moved across provincial boundaries, and millions more on whom no record is kept moved within their province—an enormous flux, greater by far than the migration from Europe. As the people from the country move in. city people move to the suburbs, and the farmland rolls continuously back. The rural poor form a reservoir of poor for the city slums, where at once they disappear as a rural statistic.
In the city the rural surplus becomes surplus labor, forcing down hourly wages and permitting exploitation. "Employers read in the papers that unemployment is rising.” says an officer of the National Employment Service. "They call us and ask for a hundred men. The men arrive. The employer wants fifty. Because he has a surplus, he can get the ones he w'ants for eighty or ninety cents an hour, sometimes less.” And the unskilled rural worker, who may go without food lor bus fare, is usually the last to be hired and the first to be fired.
Progress on the farm has produced not only a rural problem but a national crisis masked by production figures. Statisticians divide the farm income by the total number of farmers and announce that “the average farmer” now earns $3,519. But a recent report by two economic consultants in Winnipeg. Merril Menzies and Ralph Hedlin. based on interviews with 643 eastern Canadian farmers, indicated that one third of these farms produced two thirds of the produce. Prosperous farmers enjoy annual incomes of ten thousand to one hundred thousand dollars. But nearly half the farms surveyed netted no more than a thousand dollars.
As our rising GNP shows “the average Canadian” becoming richer, more than four million Canadians are growing poorer. Four fifths of us earn salaries tied to rising production or prices. But as we raise our standard of living we inexorably lower it for that one fifth who must pay the higher prices with shrinking incomes; the dollar of 1960 is worth ninety-four cents today. We have ended mass unemployment in the city where we could see it and merged the blueand white-collar worker in one great middle class, only to breed a new' class of underemployed and unwanted people in small towns and villages and in what we are still prone to think of as the best of all possible w'orlds, that cornerstone of Canada’s economy, the farm.
Farming is the epitome of progress in production. Before World War II each farmer fed ten or twelve people; now' he feeds thirty. With one third fewer workers, his output has doubled. Increased efficiency keeps his prices from going up and those farmers who cannot compete are caught in a slowly constricting spiral. Twenty years ago a farmer got twenty-five cents a pound for his beef and he could buy a tractor for eight hundred dollars. Today his beef brings perhaps thirty cents and his tractor costs three thousand dollars. In two decades 143,000 farms have been abandoned. And those who cling to the land must work harder to stay where they were twenty years ago. “The Canadian economy has said to them, in effect,” says Alex Davidson, the young down-toearth geographer who heads ARDA, “that their services are worth food, shelter and clothing—nothing more, and perhaps not too much of these."
We have organized society so that we have no use for these people. They fall behind through lack of money, health, luck, skill or good land, and once behind, we exclude them from prosperity. In what economist J. K. Galbraith calls our “conventional wisdom,” almost all our machinery of government is geared to productive growth and the few exceptions do nothing to stem the growth of our new proletariat. They are outsiders in their own land. The structure for which they pay taxes — which are high in relation to income — excludes them from the growth it is set up to stimulate. In effect, it perpetuates their poverty.
The Hedlin-Menzies study noted that the “under-$2,500” farmers worked an average of only sixty-nine improved acres. The “$5,00()-ormore” group worked almost twice as much. The poor farmer is a small farmer. He cannot operate machinery economically. The bigger farmer can borrow from the federal Farm Credit Corporation (up to fifty-five thousand dollars), under the federal Farm Improvement Loans Act or from the various provincial agencies. The small farmer, say Hedlin and Menzies, is “rarely able to secure farm credit of the kind or in the amounts required.” He cannot expand because he has not enough assets. And he cannot make any money unless he expands.
The manager of a commercial farm must stay abreast of advances in seed, soil, chemicals, antibiotics, genetics and machinery. The man who keeps him up-to-date is the "ag rep,” the provincial governments’ local agricultural representative. But the ag rep. a busy district leader and organizer in the nature of things gives most of his time to the most productive farmers. We spend forty million tax dollars a year on agricultural research, but in practice the farmers who most need help get very little. Indeed the harder the ag rep works the farther the small farmer falls behind.
Successful farmers make themselves heard in the capitals of Canada through a number of powerful provincial and national farm federations. They are currently pushing for more controls on production and higher subsidies. “Subsidies can help the commercial farmer,” says Merril Menzies, an adviser to former Prime Minister Diefenbaker. "But what’s a few cents more a pound on butter going to do for the little farmer who’s only producing a few hundred pounds? Billions of dollars have been poured into parity prices in the United States and all it did w'as create a new crop of millionaires — wheat and cotton are the most notorious examples. Price supports just encourage thousands of little farmers to produce more while doing nothing to help their basic situation. They simply pile up more surpluses and increase the need for subsidies. The rich farmers get richer and the poor get relatively poorer.”
The big farm federations express concern for the small - income farmer, but last fall the National Farmers Union passed a resolution that if adopted will “certify" only full-time farmers for subsidies. The farmer who has to take off-farm work to scrape by will be squeezed out. Some wealthy farmers have what is close to a vested interest in poverty. They can buy up the land from the dispossessed and boost their profit margins. And the rural poor are powerless. They have no organized voice.
The productive farmers meet to solve their problems in local Farm Forum groups, the 4-F1 and Holstein clubs, the Plowmen’s Association, the Crop Improvement Association, the Agricultural Society. But a 1962 study of one hundred and fifty low-income farmers in eastern Ontario’s Tweed district found “an almost total absence of membership in any group of this nature.” Only a third felt able to communicate with others by “asking questions of a speaker in a discussion period" or “giving a talk.” Ninety-two of them couldn’t even name a community problem. Some have been so long divorced from the mainstream of productivity that they have no problems in common with the more successful farmers. Others do not understand their plight and could not speak up if they did.
We have misgoverned these people so long that some are now beyond help through loans or any single government measure. We have spent public funds for schooling that did not reach these rural poor. We spend tax money on housing that benefits mainly the salaried middle class w'ho are able to pay the rent for the new homes. We spend huge sums on hospitals which are of little help to people who cannot afford health insurance. We plan to invest about three and a half billion dollars over a ten year period in the Canada Pension Plan and the man who retires with one pension can draw' another. But the rural poor, who have neither pensions nor savings, are not covered. "You can go through the public accounts and in case after case you will find,” says economic consultant Ralph Hedlin, “that we’re underwriting middle-class prosperity.” We have, in the phrase of U. S. sociologist Charles Abrams, “socialism for the rich and private enterprise for the poor.”
We have had. prior to ARDA, two solutions to poverty. One is to subsidize it with relief under new names. Welfare payments in northern Saskatchewan amount to more than a million dollars a year, while the main industry, trapping, brings five hundred and fifty thousand dollars. A 1963 survey of six Newfoundland outports showed that the average income from fishing was $901 a year, while government assistance, mainly unemployment insurance, averaged $852. Last winter a smallresort owner on Lake Winnipeg, Helgi Jones, tried to round up some unemployed fishermen to cut wood. The fishermen wouldn’t work because they would lose their insurance payments, and Jones had to cancel his contract. In region after region we are breeding professional poor who produce little, consume little, and thus slow the industrial growth that is needed to give them better jobs.
Our other solution is the federal-provincial vocational training program set up to teach our unskilled workers a trade. Since 1961 it has cost 637 million dollars and it is helping to educate a lot of middle-class youngsters. But it has done little to halt the growth of the economic u nderworld.
Eight of its ten training programs set forth under the 1964 federal training act presume that the students have been to high school. Students with less than grade nine can take only a very few' courses, such as hairdressing. carpentry, welding, mechanics or heavy machinery—all overcrowded trades. (Last winter none of the first class in heavy machinery in St. John’s had found a job two months after graduation.) The bulk of the courses are not designed for the people who most need training. Nearly seventy percent of all rural people have never been to high school.
Some educators profess to see hope in the fact that every five years the number of farm youths reaching high school increases by three percent. But this rise cannot match the pace at which unskilled jobs arc disappearing. The 1961 census show'cd that one out of two rural youngsters were dropping out of school before grade nine, and, since most successful farmers put their children at least through high school, the rate for the rural poor is obviously higher. In terms of the schooling needed to get even an unskilled job today, the rural poor are falling further behind.
“They're trapped, although some of them may not realize it,” says ARDA's director. Alex Davidson. “They realize, however, that they are losing significance and status. During the Depression nearly everybody was poor, and there was a national fellowship of the poor. But it is a little different when, within our generally prosperous country, we begin to develop what some sociologists call ‘a culture of poverty’—a separate nation of the poor.”
Some poor are separatists in a deeper sense than the racists of Quebec. After twenty, thirty, forty years of frustration they no longer care. They escape in apathy or anger, alcoholism or crime. Forty-two percent of all admissions to Manitoba’s provincial jail at Portage la Prairie last year were Indians or Métis, a group whose crime rate is negligible when they earn enough money to live on. About forty percent of these were women, imprisoned for prostitution, and most of the men have an alcoholic problem. The poor, according to one survey, are three times as prone to emotional depression and forty percent more liable to mental illness than the more prosperous.
Poverty creates a health problem, an alcohol problem, a crime problem, an educational problem, an Indian problem—the list goes on and on. Yet we continue to govern the nation as if we had only one problem: an economic problem that the Gross National Product can solve.
Behind this cult of the GNP. at the heart of the myth of progress, is the dogma of the Victorians: persistent effort is always rewarded. And I think of Douglas Noseworthy, an unemployed miner trapped with live children and no cash on Bell Island. When the mine laid him off he made up his mind that he would go to Ontario. For seventy dollars he bought an old car, rigged up a lift, and heaved out the motor. Part by part he overhauled it and heaved it back in place. He had five or six men saving twenty dollars each to pay for their share of the trip. When he got there he hoped to sell the car for enough to bring out his family.
1 don’t know whether he made it but his energy, his initiative, would have taken him a long w'ay if he had been born elsewhere, perhaps in Sicily, where our immigration department would have helped him find and get to a job in Ontario.
“We have to change our attitude,” says Ralph Hedlin. "We’re still projecting frontier values into the age of technology. I can wax eloquent about my father, a Swedish peasant, walking across the prairies, building a homestead, raising a family of six, putting them through university. But four out of five of those western homesteaders failed. The cost in defeat and frustration of settling the west was enormous. We have to give up our romantic beliefs. They result m a fantastic waste of humanity.”
It is waste that is the tragedy, the appalling w'aste of people whose aspirations and efforts are ground into cynicism or futility. They challenge the entire mystique of progress: the nineteenth-century belief that we arc the masters of our fate, that we can get ahead if we only try, that opportunity is equal, that government is democratic, and that the Gross National Product measures the well-being of the nation.
uch of this region should never have heen settled, so thin is the soil. Now, after inept attempts at farming hy settlers who neither knew nor cared about farming, after unplanned, indiscriminate logging, much once-lovely land is a desolation from which protrude dead trees.”
Back-country poverty, the ironic offshoot of prosperity, perpetuates itself in an endless cycle of hopelessness
IT is A CURIOUS COMMENTARY on poverty that when CBC-TV portrayed it this winter on the north shore of New Brunswick some citizens of the regional centre of Bathurst were indignant. They pointed to the 1 17million-dollar complex of minerals, steel and chemicals now rising at Belledune Point, near the richest new base-metal find in North America, to two new mines soon to open and two large ones now producing, to a new forest-products plant, and expansion in two big pulp and paper firms. Growth, they seemed to think, denied decline.
In fact, there are two worlds in Canada, existing side by side. In Bathurst you see new store fronts, apartments and homes being built. But along roads that radiate out of this community of thirteen thousand the pockets of good farmland shade into mile after mile of scrubby clearings in which squat tarpaper shacks, their chinks plugged with rags. From five to twenty people may share one thinly partitioned room, without a toilet, bath or running water. Some use tin cans for utensils.
This is an ARDA region, one of ten designated as depressed by our federal Agricultural Rehabilitation And Development Administration. In a rectangle one hundred miles by forty, the hard core of the poor "camp" on fifty to one hundred uncleared acres and commute to seasonal jobs in construction, the mines, fish plants, peat bogs or bush. At times in winter one third have no work. “The majority,” says an ARDA study, "is permanently and chronically underemployed.”
Much of this region should never have been settled, so thin is the soil. Now. after inept attempts at farming by former fishermen, after indiscriminate logging, and the ravages of forest fire, much of the once-lovely woodland is a desolation cf young brush from which protrude the limbless grey spars of dead trees.
The dwindling income from wood was not enough to pay for good schools and World War II aggravated the teacher shortage. Pupils sat sullenly in the classrooms, ill at ease in their rags, or uncaring because their parents scoffed at schooling. At fifteen or so a boy would finally quit grade six or seven, cut some pulpwood, perhaps get a girl in trouble. The brightest went on to high school, the more adventurous left for the frontier, for the great construction projects of the north—and it was seldom that either type returned. They left the dropouts to marry and propagate in their rural ghettos a diminishing level of character and intelligence.
In an effort to catch up on schooling, the county of which Bathurst is the centre now has a school budget twelve times as large as in 1946. But there are still some public schools such as the one in Tetagouche South, where eight grades are crammed into one room, sixteen by fourteen feet, with no electric light and a stove that roasts those pupils near it while leaving those in the back rows to shiver. Its fountain is a cream can, its playground is a gravel pit, and to pay for its teacher, janitor, fuel and repairs, its budget is two thousand dollars a year. Three of its twenty-three pupils, the teacher thinks, may go on to high school. The others will enter modern society with the smattering of education that they get from this one untrained teacher. She is dedicated and intelligent, but like half the county’s teachers, she does not hold a teaching certificate.
Even this level of education takes 74.4 percent of the local taxes, which are levied on all property, even livestock and machinery. There is scarcely a farm in the region that couldn’t support twice as many cows or double its sale of vegetables, most of which are now imported, but taxes discourage farmers from expanding.
William Fraser, a farmer who supports eleven people, pays nearly five hundred dollars on a net of about eighteen hundred. "All the farmers around here have moved out now.” he says. “The ones who are still staying have torn down their buildings and have got jobs as carpenters, electricians—all those jobs.”
John Foley farms 380 acres, nine tenths of it woodland. His taxes total twelve hundred dollars. He figures he clears thirty-five cents less a cord on his wood than it costs him in taxes to grow it. “And they wonder why you don’t do more tree farming,” he says.
The largest dairy farm in the area. W. J. Kent Company, has reduced its herd to lower its taxes. Gorton Pew Limited, at Caraquet, has put off expanding its fish plant, which would have supplied a few badly needed new jobs. The Bathurst Marine Company Limited, which employed two hundred men, has recently moved to Prince Edward Island where tax concessions were offered.
One third of the county's eighteen thousand taxpayers are in arrears. Unpaid taxes total more than $1,300,000. The county has published the names of sixty-six hundred debtors in local newspapers and the sheriff has seized property. But most of this property cannot be sold. And so the returns from the land spiral downward.
Those forced to work off the farm swell the pool of cheap surplus labor. The big pulp companies can pay a man like Antoine Légère, with twenty children, $10.50 a cord for his wood, while a few miles north in the Gaspé. where the pulpwood cutters are organized, pulp companies are paying $16 a cord.
Last summer Légère had to search for work in three districts, each search costly. In winter he works in thigh-deep snow, freezing rain or bitter cold. His two-hundred-and-fifty-dollar chain saw is heavy (twentyfive pounds) and Légère is not young. He worries about it breaking down, for then he may lose several days. In December he cuts Christmas trees for fifteen to twenty-five cents a tree and in summer he picks blueberries. In all. he earns nine hundred dollars a year. And work and worry are undermining his health.
Poverty and sickness reinforce each other until a man is too poor to keep up his car or the few tools he needs. He watches his children degenerate from a diet of bread and potatoes. Some have bones so sore from malnutrition that they cry. Some have scurvy or respiratory infections from lack of vitamins. Severe bouts of tonsilitis break out one after another until rheumatic fever develops and then a rheumatic heart. “The people are exploited.” says Father Gérard Gautreau, the priest of Allardville. “Bathurst is living out of the sweat of these people."
The per capita income of the region has shrunk to one third the national average, while social assistance, the new name for relief, has risen from thirty-four thousand dollars in 1956 to more than six hundred thousand—and still it is far from enough. Unemployment insurance payments are about five and a half million dollars. In Father Gautreau’s parish of two hundred and forty families, government assistance of all kinds totals more than a quarter million dollars.
Yet in this parish only one third of the families had gardens last summer. Most live on ten cleared acres and have grass for a cow but buy canned milk. They buy a can of beans for the price of a couple of pounds of dry beans. For years they tried and got nowhere, now they are doing what comes easiest. They are falling behind in everything but their birthrate.
They are criticized for not planning ahead, but they see no future to plan for. When they get a job the money goes out as fast as it comes in and you see in the ARDA region the paradoxical vignettes of poverty; a display of Christmas lights outside a shack where one bare bulb burns; aluminum windows and doors in a house where the wind blows through the siding; an electric refrigerator with nothing in it but bread. Half the people on relief owe the finance company and don't know or care that their interest rate may be twenty-four percent.
Some can no longer work in a group, as in a co-op. Last year a co-operative piggery at Burnsville lost thirty-five thousand dollars, mostly through poor planning and management. But though many have lost initiative they are not necessarily lazy. This season some woodlot owners doubled their income from Christmas trees when a forester showed them how to thin and trim them. A family, prodded by a welfare worker to save and buy a pig. had meat every day for the first time in years. But someone else must supply their exhausted initiative.
Without help they lapse in time into what sociologists call a subculture, an underworld of mores subtly opposed to those of the overworld. an attitude of indifference to, or subversion of, society. They set fire to crown woodland to force pulp companies to hire them as salvage crews. They work just long enough to get their winter's unemployment stamps. They send their children to school just enough to qualify for family allowances. They trade their welfare food for cash to buy beer. At election time they sell their votes for a few drinks and some promises, and they pass on their attitudes to their children.
These are the poor who inhabit a world of hunger and delinquency that tells less about them as persons than about the society that created them. And alongside the wealth that is breeding the new wealth of which Bathurst is proud, their poverty continues to breed poverty.
‘‘A t^e roac^s (he pockets of good farmland shade into mile after mile of scrubby clearings in which squat tarpaper shacks, their chinks plugged with rags. From five to twenty people may share one thinly partitioned room, without a toilet, a bath or running water."
As the big fish companies take over, the independent man becomes the unnecessary man, stranded with unwanted skills
IN THE interlake—the flatlands between Manitoba’s great inland lakes—they have a saying: “Once a fisherman always a fisherman.’’ Since most fisherman like their work, no doubt it is psychologically true. But it is not literally true, certainly not for Kari Olsen. Slowly, unwillingly, he is being squeezed out of his trade and out of his home in Riverton on Lake Winnipeg.
You drive to Riverton, seventy miles north of Winnipeg, along a marshy lake-edge patched by farms and stunted poplar. This was once the independent republic of "New Iceland." Icelandic immigrants built the towns with their breakwaters, wharves and fish sheds and began one of our great inland fisheries. But the catch, now ten million pounds a year, has dwindled by fifty percent since the 1940s. and the Icelanders, whose roots go deep on this windswept coast, are leaving it.
Riverton, just off the lake on the Icelandic River, has a small boat works and beside it some gas boats arc pulled up for the winter. It is mainly a service centre for the Indian camps to the north and surrounding Icelandic, Ukrainian, Mennonite, Polish and German farmers. The wide treeless main street has a small hotel, a small bank, a scattering of stores, a garage with some old cars rusting in its yard, and farther down a construction office and a skating rink.
Olsen was working on an addition to the rink when I met him. an Icelander in a torn parka, fairly tall, slightly stooped, with shrewd blue eyes, thinning fair hair, and big gnarled fisherman’s hands. "There's no money in wanter fishing any more," he said. "When this job’s done in January I don’t know' what I’ll do. I’d leave here but I can’t sell my house."
Away back in the thirties he had made the decision that brought him to this impasse. He was in his midtwenties, farming west of Winnipeg for his father. He moved to his wife Emily's hometown of Riverton, bought a skiff and nets on credit, and went fall fishing for pickerel at one of the small-company stations that pack the fish in ice for collection by the big companies’ freight boats.
There are forty-five stations for pickerel with about twenty-five skiffers each. It’s a risky gamble that keeps you away from home for two months. You get up before dawn and the company boat hauls your skiff out into the lake and picks you up about midafternoon. Sometimes the wind whips up ten-foot waves that threaten to swamp your skiff and one or two fishermen drown every year. Some days you bring in a thousand pounds, some days only two hundred.
Still, Olsen made enough to build a house and raise five sons. With four friends he bought a gas boat and ranged the lake in summer for whitefish. He made three thousand dollars one year or two and then never again. He kept putting out more and more nets to catch the same amount of fish. But the fish didn't seem to be there any more. Sometimes he set five miles of nets and got fifty pounds. Now he's lucky if he clears sixteen hundred dollars a year. Most make less.
It is a classic problem of what the economists call “a fixed common property resource." Throughout northern Manitoba are fifty-five thousand Indians and Metis. Many live on close terms with hunger and most hold fishing licenses. The fish companies outfitted too many of them, with too few nets for efficiency. So those in debt went farther behind, used illegal fine-mesh nets, and the competition among fishermen became cut-throat.
nee Kari Olsen was one of /50 gas-boat operators, most of them independent. Now there are 80. Maybe 20 can still bargain. Too many fishermen, not enough fish — it brings out the worst in everyone. ‘You can end so deep in the red,' says Olsen, ‘you never get out.'”
And as the fish are depleted, an honest fisherman like Olsen begins to wonder what honesty is worth. You try to keep pride in your work but it's hard when you know it’s costing you money. You watch the fish sail through your regulation five-inch mesh and into the three-inch mesh of the scrounger. You put everything one hundred percent good quality in the box, while the scrounger slips in fish soft from the sun or bruised from handling. You see the company hand out twelve hundred dollars’ worth of equipment to deadbeats who don't even look for nets when they night-drag two or three miles. They're lost. And who pays? Somebody has to. It all comes out of production.
“Some years you end so deep in the red you never get out,” says Olsen. “Like in 1956. I lost the whitefish boat. I went to Great Slave Lake and I hit a poor summer there. But I came out better than if I'd stayed because everyone here was in the hole. Since then I never took a chance on summer fishing for myself.” Now Olsen works for Joe Magnusson, an independent packer. He gets his credit through Joe, and Joe gets his through Selkirk Fisheries.
And this is the pattern of the fishery. The bigger companies are taking over. They own most of the boats they rent to the fishermen. Once Olsen was one of one hundred and fifty gas-boat operators, most of them independent. Now there are eighty. And maybe twenty arc still in a position to bargain, to say to the company, “Why should 1 take your price. I know where I can get five cents more.”
Because once you’re in hock to a company you have to accept its grading. You have to buy your supplies from its store regardless of the markup. And not just you, the little guy. Most of the packers are in so deep that the company can tell them how many men and how many skiffs to take out. They can argue, sure, but they've got them over a barrel.
And the companies haven't got it that good either. They sell to U. S. brokers, and the brokers have spies in Winnipeg who tell them how much fish is on the way and how much is stored. When fish is scarce and the price is high and big shipments are on the way, the brokers may postpone buying to force down the price in Winnipeg. If there's plenty of fish, they can play Manitoba off against Ontario. And so the price of fish goes up and down like a penny stock. It can drop twenty cents a pound within twenty-four hours. A fisherman never knows what price he'll get before he goes out fishing.
“We got a federation going five years ago,” says Olsen. “I called a meeting here and three guys came out. I figured they hadn't seen the posters, so I changed the date on them three times. Finally I went around to every guy and brought them in. but there's no more interest in it than that.”
You can t get any interest up unless you can say to the companies. We won t go out until we get our price." And how can you say that with all the Indians and Métis wanting to fish and scattered in hard-toget-at camps around two thousand miles of shoreline? And how can a government man go up to Berens River and Loon Strait and tell the chiefs, "We re sorry, you can't get fishing licenses this year,” when there’s nothing else to keep these decent hardworking people from starving?
Too many fishermen, not enough fish—it brings out the worst in everyone. And now the province is licensing the trap net—a huge mesh box that replaces thirty gill nets — hastening the process whereby eight hundred men or more will be forced off the lake in the next ten years.
“Even now you have to find something else in winter,” Olsen says. He is handy with his hands and usually tries to find work as a carpenter. But at the time fall fishing is ending the contractors in Riverton are laying off one hundred and fifty men. And as the roads push up to the
native camps along the lake rim these people move into town and com-
pete for the too-few seasonal jobs.
And so the Icelanders are leaving — to the farm, the city, the west coast. Ten years ago four hundred Icelanders lived to the northeast on
Hecla Island. About a hundred and sixty of them are left. But when
you do something you like, when a job has become your trade, you do not easily move on to something else. And what money Olsen has is in his equipment and his house.
All his sons but the youngest, now in grade ten. have left home. One has a job with the telephone company in Selkirk to the south, the other three are going to university. “We’ve been lucky with the kids,” Olsen says. “They won a lot of bursaries.” The children are the only visible evidence of success in the life of this able persistent man who chose a career in the wrong place.
What would he do now? “Move, I guess. I've felt it coming a long time. If I could keep on fishing I would . . .” Then he shrugged and said flatly, firmly, “You just replace it with something else, either better or worse.” No one was going to feel sorry for Kari Olsen.
And where would he go? He grinned wryly. “Oh,” he said, “the world gobbles us up.”
One way out: a “commando program” to train leaders to help victims of rural depression while they still care
THE GREATEST CHALLENGE that faced the nation in the first quarter of this century was how to turn its resources into goods. By 1930 it was painfully clear that the problem was distribution, how to control the disastrous business cycle of boom and bust and give a fair share of the goods to every citizen. And then along came British economist J. M. Keynes, who showed us how' to control the cycle and keep production rising by central control of the money supply. Rising production became the economic gospel of the land, our painless panacea for poverty. By creating new jobs it automatically solved unemployment.
Production is now at an all-time high. For four years it has been rising. But the recent creation of a federal government agency called ARDA, the Agricultural Rehabilitation and Development Administration, has made it clear that the poor are with us still. Not only have we failed to control unemployment, we have had to coin two new words, “underemployed” and “unemployable,” to classify four or five million people left behind by technology and now locked into poverty by a structure of society set up almost solely to keep the production of goods going up. "To have failed to solve the problem of producing goods,” says J. K. Galbraith. the distinguished economist, “would have been to continue man in his oldest and most grievous misfortune. But to fail to see that we have solved it and to fail to proceed thence to the next task, would be fully as tragic.”
The challenge facing ARDA and the nation today is how to employ our resources, especially people in rural areas. ARDA director Alex Davidson states it simply as "too many rural people who are too poor.” but that is the only simple thing about it. In nearly three years of probing ARDA has piled up mountains of paper: studies, surveys, reports. Huge sums have been spent: about forty million dollars so far. and over the next five years ARDA's agreement with the provinces, with which it shares costs fifty-fifty, could bring the total spending to $250 million. ARDA has enthusiastic leadership: Forestry Minister Maurice Sauvé. It has a competent staff of nine executives, experts in eight different fields. It has organization: in every province a director who links all provincial government departments and then channels their projects for ARDA's experts to study and approve. And yet little has been done to bring about ARDA's three main aims: to help the provinces use land better: develop jobs in the lagging areas, move or train those for whom there are no jobs.
Land use—getting the most from the land—is the base of the ARDA program and this means getting rid of a lot of unproductive farmers. Sauvé says. “Since rural poverty arises in large part from the existence of close to one hundred and eighty thousand low - income farms, concrete action seems essential.” And Davidson spells it out: "We can buy land from some of the farmers and lease it or resell it to somebody who has got managerial ability. You give him credit, you give him agricultural training. and you set him up as a commercial farmer. Then you say to those you've bought out, ‘We'll train you and your family and we'll assist you to move and we'll even assist you to get a job someplace else.' This is the ideal approach.” But there it remains, an ideal.
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ARDA can research, advise and finance but action is up to the provinces, and provincial politicians know that most people don't want to move. “What would I get if I sold out?" says a farmer in Ontario. “Three or four thousand dollars? That won't buy a house in the city. And what would 1 do? Line up at the unemployment agency? If you don’t have a trade you might as well stay home.” In this stand he is backed by his community, sometimes his church, which views diminishing numbers as decline.
The reluctance of politicians to act in the face of this public reaction is reinforced by those who see any reduction in family farms as undermining our national character, and those who assume that the problem will solve itself in thirty years as the small landholders are forced out or die off. Even the farsighted man who created ARDA, former Agriculture Minister Alvin Hamilton, once felt it politically expedient to say, “It is not the purpose of ARDA to reduce the number of farms.”
If people will not move to jobs, then ARDA must make jobs. “The greatest thing that could happen to rural communities,” says George McLaughlin, vice-president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, “would be a program to entice secondary industry to smaller towns and villages.” But as ARDA’s specialist in land use, Dick Hodges, points out, “The day of cheap skilled labor is gone. In the poor areas there’s no incentive for industry to go in. The bulk of the labor pool there hasn't got past grade four. Most plant managers would say, ‘I can’t use those people. I can't even explain to them what I w'ant done.' ”
The only course left to ARDA is what it calls “community development.” “Local people form a group,” says ARDA consultant Fraser Symington. “They enlist experts from universities and government to study their resources and human skills. Then they plan w'hat best to do with them.
So far this is the only thing that works. The provinces have nominated ten areas that need help. “Rural Development Areas,” they are called. And ARDA has helped them finance dams and parks, public pastures and blueberry patches. In all, six hundred projects have been approved. But this, as Alex Davidson is frank to admit, is "nibbling at the edges of the problem.” When you sit down to explore solutions with anyone in ARDA, a perceptible pall of weari-
ness pervades the whole atmosphere.
ARDA is frustrated by a lack of trained community-development officers, men with the patience and skill to work with poorly educated people without imposing their view's upon them. “If we can train commandos in wartime." says Dick Hodges, “surely we can train community leaders.” But as yet we have not a single training centre.
ARDA is burdened by the entrenched views of local citizens. “We believe profoundly in giving people an opportunity to help themselves, and equally profoundly that if they don’t take it they’re not worth help,’’ says Symington. “But some of our poor have been poor too long. Normal incentives don't work. This doesn't mean nothing will. It just means that we haven't learned yet how to govern them.”
Even in designating an area, ARDA collides with pride and prejudice. When I wanted to tour an ARDA region, the Interlake north of Winnipeg, Manitoba's ARDA director refused to let his people co-operate because, he said, and no doubt he was right, “Our effectiveness would be finished. The people there are sensitive.” No region wants to be labeled “poor” or “depressed.“
And ARDA is handicapped by divided authority. Its counterpart in the U. S., the Office of Economic Opportunity, which reports directly to President Johnston, has itself the power to set up industries, move workers and train them. ARDA must persuade other federal agencies to act, and any action in education, which is the prerogative of the provinces, must appear to be in the field of labor.
What right has Ottawa ... ?
ARDA, though as bipartisan as an agency can be, by its nature impinges on federal-provincial relations. And strangely enough, its toughest critic has not been in Quebec, or the regions that most need help and have had the least, the Atlantic Provinces, but in Manitoba. Agriculture Minister George Hutton, a wide solid man with an eye-crinkling smile and a blunt tongue, says, “What the hell right has the federal government got to turn down or okay our projects? Natural resources arc the exclusive domain of the province. We know what’s best for the province. Give us the money and let us get on with it.” ARDA replies that the Treasury insists on control over federal government spending.
Hutton says, “ARDA has to apply to all people in the province.” ARDA answers, “Economic growth in good regions just widens the gap. We want to close it.”
Hutton's hassle with ARDA is all the more ironic since only in Manitoba's Intcrlake region north of Winnipeg has ARDA had any real success. ARDA has surveyed the area and provincial officials have pondered the problems: a population declining in relation to the province, a low level of education and public services, shrinking incomes from fishing and trapping, farmland overgrown with brush, thin cropland which is frequently flooded and trampled by geese that nest in the marshes.
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The government was ready to help them—if they were ready to help themselves
Last April, Manitoba officials called meetings in Stonewall and Arborg. They explained to businessmen. farmers and housewives what the government could do for them if they formed a development group: give '-®m organizers, experts, teach-
ers, subsidies, loans and training. “Your government,” said the windup speaker, D. A. Young, “is ready with a new approach. All that is needed now is your participation.”
By last fall twelve development committees were busy, each led by a former agricultural field man, some drawing in chiefs from nearby In-
dian reserves. Farmers have banded together to cut the cost of clearing their brush, for w'hich the province lends them money and pays one quarter of the cost. At Dennis and Fish Lakes, dams and drains have flood water under control and two other districts are being drained to encourage investment. At Fish Lake,
ARDA has bought up land for a public pasture on w'hich the surrounding farmers are running some five hundred head of cattle. A second community pasture is underway and a third is planned. "We've set up a situation where a farmer with seven cows can have twenty-five, which gives him some income,” says Hutton. "We're after increased capacity to produce beef.”
At Steep Rock twenty-five fishermen have drawn up plans for a rough fish plant. The committee at Hecla Island has outlined plans for a beach, a marina, a cottage site, a seaplane base and a park. Other groups are promoting wildlife-management areas, a seed-cleaning plant at Arborg, kaolin deposits (for porcelain) at Sylvan, and the wild goose as an Interlake symbol to lure hunters. Most important, they have just won federal support for a marketing board that could do for prairie fishermen what the Wheat Board does for farmers.
None of these projects, except the last, are spectacular. But they all involve local people with the Manitoba cabinet. Each minister now knows the region's local problems. And ARDA has been dovetailed into a broad regional plan to bring in factories and step up education. To develop resources without training would leave the jobless worse oft than before.
“Ten years ago my farm was seven miles from a high school," says Hutton. “If I could afford to pay tuition, transportation and board for my children, they could get an education: otherwise they couldn't. As a result a lot of youngsters dropped out. Well, we're changing all that.”
“We raised the compulsory school age from fourteen to fifteen," says George Johnson, the minister of education, "and this year we'll raise it to sixteen. We're building new regional high schools — two thousand classrooms in six years—and we’re fixing up the roads so the kids can get there. We're building a trades-training centre three hundred miles north in The Pas and a high school just forty miles away from it. We’ll train Indian girls for city jobs as chambermaids and waitresses. We'll bring in people from all over the north country.” In six years the number of students has soared from thirty thousand to fifty thousand, and five times as many as ten years ago are sticking it out to grade twelve.
Last winter the province tackled the toughest job in education; upgrading the “unemployables,” men who dropped out of school so soon that they can't even train for a trade. The National Employment Office tunneled them over to Johnson’s department, men of eighteen, twenty-eight, fortyeight. Some had been jobless for years, some were hopeless, some desperate, and they had to be taught basic English, how to communicate: practical math, from addition to algebra; and such basic science as matter, water pressure, and magnetism.
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“We told them. ‘We’ll establish a class near your home,’ ” says Scott Bateman, deputy minister of education. “ ‘We’ll give you a living allowance. The best teachers we can get. We’U let you move at your own speed. If you can do a chapter of math a day and the chap across the aisle can only do half a chapter you'll go on. If you finish you won’t have the same education as a grade ten student but you can train for the same job as a grade ten.’ ”
The educators rented offices, halls, converted an air-force H-hut, and enrolled fourteen hundred unemployed in forty-seven classes. About one hundred and seventy-five didn’t show up. Others soon dropped out. Some went on sitting in class just to draw the pay. Some who started with grade three quit at grade five but may be back. But about four hundred jobless got their grade ten.
“Some moved up three grades in three months,” says Brian Angood. an education official. “They do fantastic things. Like the veterans after the war, they’ve got motivation. And whatever they get leaves them richer than before. Sometimes their whole attitude changes. They go out and hustle up a job when they haven't been able to get one in years. Some go back to their old employer and tell them w'hat they’ve done and it changes the employer's attitude, too. Nothing impresses employers so much as the guy who’s had a tough go and then turns around and does something about it.” Since the program started unemployment in Manitoba has dropped.
Why the feud with ARDA?
Manitoba’s bootstrap campaign shows why Hutton is feuding with ARDA and why ARDA is moving along so slowly elsewhere. Manitoba is a have-not province, striving dynamically to catch up to those former have-nots, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Its cabinet is working day and night at every level: the community, the regional, the provincial. And it has made ARDA part of its overall program.
“ARDA has to work in a framework of regional growth,” Hutton says. “We can’t hold up all our plans while ARDA okays a few local projects. Let them give us a block grant and tell us what kind of programs it can be spent for. At the end of the year review it and make adjustments.”
“Sauvé talks of a war on poverty,” says a Manitoba deputy minister, “and war is big enough to dissolve our differences. But half the capital cost of a project isn't much compared to its upkeep. How can we get excited about a million and a hall ARDA dollars when our budget is one hundred and fifty million? If ARDA wants to make war on poverty in terms big enough to excite interest, the provinces will probably go along.”
Poverty, like w-ar, is a massive complex of problems that will not give way to some scattered local action. We must face the fact that some people cannot or will not be trained, but if someone supplies the initiative, most will work. For their lifetime we need a program of public works in lieu of welfare: elemental needs such as sewage-disposal plants, slum clearance, hospitals, an investment of labor in rural landscaping, water control, parks and harbors that will cost much more a few decades from now.
We need to give our new proletariat more purchasing pow;er: a pension plan that gives all the aged enough to maintain their dignity, a minimum wage that includes all classes of workers, a health plan that embraces all the nation. But to do this without a high growth rate would bring on inflation and so. says economist Merril Menzies, an adviser to ex-Prime Minister Diefenbaker, we need a new' economic approach in Ottawa.
“Keynes’ theory of central monetary control was a great breakthrough,” he says. “At long last economists began to talk of the total economy instead of an industry. The Liberals were pretty good at using it to keep the GNP rising, hut they averaged out incomes and calculated that everyone was pretty well fixed and that cost them the 1957 election.
"Diefenbaker and Alvin Hamilton realized this simply wasn't true. They knew the problems of the prairies. Technology going ahead at a fantastic rate. Grain piling up. Costs mounting in terms of cash. The prairies were in deep trouble. Diel and Alvin set up cash advances, credit sales through the Wheat Board. They made tremendous sales cttorts which resulted in the Chinese wheat deal and the sun came out and shone on the prairie economy. If they hadn't been willing to stick out their necks in an anti-Communist period when most of the cabinet was against it, the prairies wouldn't be having this upsurge now. You can criticize Diefenbaker on central monetary policy, but he made a breakthrough in grasping the problems of one of live or six areas, and in gratitude the prairies voted for him. Keynes' theory was developed in the context of Britain, a mature tight economy. We have a regional economy with gross disparities in prosperity, and we haven't learned to adapt Keynes’ theory to it. If we could put people in Ottawa who know the problems ot all the areas and combine this with a sound central monetary policy, we’d have real growth. And four or live million people wouldn’t be left out.” The poor are not some separate problem but part of a greater challenge: how to harness productive
growth to the growth of society. If we are to meet this challenge, the moral equivalent ol war, it must be with funds commensurate to it. a total involvement, a new approach. “We need a resource development policy,” says Ralph Hcdlin, a co-consultant with Menzies for ARDA. "It's clear that a good many socalled unemployables can be salvaged if we can tailor our hidebound educational system to their needs, and this now has education studying its navel. You take a million young, virile, reasonably intelligent people who aren’t doing much and you train them as Sweden is doing — you're looking at a hundred billion dollars. We'll spend millions on a forest or a dam but nothing much on people. It’s the greatest undeveloped resource in the country.”