SOME IMPRESSIONS OF MY STAY IN ENGLAND
AN ADDRESS BY HON. G. HOWARD FERGUSON
Thursday, December 19th, 1935
PRESIDENT: Honourable Mr. Ferguson, Guests and Members of The Empire Club of Canada: I' was somewhat concerned on reading Monday papers to note the tenor of the interviews which the press had with the Honourable Mr. Ferguson. It seemed as though he wished the public to think of him in the words of the song which goes as follows: "The Old Gray Mare, She Ain't so Bad as She Was in The Old Days." (Laughter.) Perhaps I had better say that again: "She Ain't What She Always Was." I had the good fortune yesterday to spend some little time with our guest speaker and I can assure you there is no need for us being concerned in that regard. (Applause.) Mr. Ferguson is still the same strong man he was when he lived here five years ago. His mind has lost none of its keenness. With the years he grows and improves and he still retains that very happy faculty of being very human and being much concerned with the problems of those in distress.
I haven't any 'doubt during the past five years that Mr. Ferguson's perspective has broadened materially. He has had contacts during that time which we have the opportunity to get only on very unusual occasions. He has been mingling with people who realize that what we do today means not only something with respect to the immediate present but what we do today will mean much to us in the years to come. Mr. Ferguson, during this past five years has carried a very heavy load. As High Commissioner for Canada he has accepted very heavy responsibilities and we, as members of the Empire Club wish to say to him that as good Canadians we are very appreciative of his efforts. We welcome him back to Canada .and we welcome him once more as an active member of this organization. Mr. Ferguson. (The audience arose to its feet and greeted Mr. Ferguson with cheers and prolonged applause.)
HON. G. HOWARD FERGUSON: The old gray mare may not be what she used to be, but you have to try her out to find out. (Laughter.)
Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen, I feel that you have paid me a very great compliment in asking me to be your guest at this luncheon and giving me the opportunity to discuss very briefly with you some phases of my work and my experience in the last five years that have impressed me tremendously.
To come home is a great thing. There is no more comforting and no more thrilling word in the English language than the word `home.' (Applause.) Even if you do come as a prodigal, it is nice to get back home.
I thought that today I might like to touch upon two or three features of English life and the general British situation that will be of interest to you. It must of necessity be very brief because the field is so broad and the problems so inexhaustible that one cannot, even devoting a whole evening, impart sufficient information to give an adequate conception of what the situation is.
The three features that I have in mind are the position Britain has taken and the course she has pursued with regard to military activity. Another feature that is most remarkable is her recovery and progress in industry and commerce. And the third and perhaps the most fundamental of all her characteristics is her unswerving devotion to the institutions that form the basis of our social and political order.
Throughout the ages Great Britain has always been regarded as the symbol of justice and fair play. Even in the days when she went out to expand her borders in new countries and to develop colonies she endeavoured to do it on a basis of fairness and justice, protecting all the rights of those with whom she was dealing. As she has pursued that course all down through the ages and every Britisher today, whether he comes from Scotland, the north of England or Whitechapel is inoculated with that spirit and that principle of fair play. She is regarded as the guarantor of peace and her actions have amply justified that title. It was said after the last war that we fought that awful carnage to put an end to conflicts by force of arms and Britain followed the principle that underlies the effort made by a combination of nations into a League. She put forth her best efforts to secure world disarmament. Well, I needn't elaborate on what happened. As you know she reduced not only her offensive portions, if you can say she has such, but all her defences to a point where even the phlegmatic Britisher began to be nervous because nobody else was following her example. She sacrificed tremendously in the interests of humanity, thinking that other nations would live up to the principles they enunciated and would follow her example, but their actions, I think, demonstrate to us all that the old vicious philosophy of force is still too wide spread and rampant in this world, and Britain has been placed in the position where if she is to maintain her own defences and to protect the commerce of the Empire, not only from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, but from Canada as well, if she is to see to it that the business we want to 'do with the rest of the world, we will be permitted to do, she has got to strengthen and increase her naval police force, whether we contribute to it or not.
And may I say incidentally, that in this last election in great Britain, one of the outstanding features was the defence policy as enunciated by Mr. Baldwin and by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That did a tremendous lot to give this government a huge majority because people there have accepted the view of the government that they have made all the sacrifices necessary to try and urge others to throw down their arms and pursue more neighbourly and peaceful methods and they have found that that way has failed.
Now, there is only one other way outside of a clash of arms and that is to secure the co-operation of the nations of the world to prevent an aggressive action, to prevent invasion, imposition, and Great Britain, having joined the League of Nations, not of her origin, having adopted another fellow's child„ she proposes to see that that child has just the same chance as her own child would have. Having signed an obligation with her traditional character she proposes to keep that obligation and her position at the League today and ever since she joined it has been, "we signed a covenant, we promised to do something; as long as it is possible to carry out our undertaking we propose to do it." (Applause.) And that's what I say, incidentally, Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen, is one of the things that has made Great Britain great. She keeps her word. But the word in the Covenant provides not for individual isolated action but it provides for collective action, and when collective action becomes impossible - I cannot see anything else than a dissolution of the League because it is not a League unless it acts in co-operation-and today Britain has the most difficult task, and we who live so far away from the centre of this intricate situation should withold our criticism, should give sympathetic voice to the great nation which is trying to extricate the world from the gravest situation it has been in since 1914.
Marvellous people. I went away from herewith fairly strong views with regard to the wisdom of our maintaining our imperial connection, and a fairly high opinion of the British as a people. I have come back convinced that the future security and peace and prosperity of the world depends upon the actions that take place in those little Islands in the North Sea. And as a humble Canadian so far as my voice and influence is concerned, I will be guided by the experiences I have had, the convictions that have come to me as a result of what activity I have had, what contacts I have had there and what I understand of the situation.
We signed the League Covenant, too. "Canada" is writ large right across the bottom. A promissory note. You can't escape it any more than you can escape from the bank, as long as you have any assets. We have undertaken by every proper means, collectively with other nations in the world, to do all in our power to restrain armed conflict and I am sure we will do it. I am sure we will stand by Britain who has stood by us through the centuries. (Applause.) I am sure that it will be the part of wisdom that we should do so.
You know, they are a remarkable people. I heard the Foreign Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, make a most remarkable speech at Geneva. I never heard anything more eloquent and inspiring and convincing in my life and as things have gone on, apparently in his desire to go the very limit to secure protection of his country, he enunciated a policy that the British people didn't approve. Now, what happened? They tell Samuel Hoare very emphatically and he does what every loyal citizen and Minister of Government does do, he gives them his resignation, because he doesn't expect them all to resign and let him run the job. He believes in solidarity of Cabinet action, (Applause.) which is the very basis of British institutions and he walks away. He says somebody else may do better and there is no recrimination and there is no attack upon the other fellows and there is no attempt to destroy the government of which he was a member. No, they don't do it that way over there. They have their own peculiar methods of doing things and their record through the centuries has shown they are pretty good methods, too.
Now, I musn't say anything more about the war situation. It is tense, it is difficult. We should avoid„ as I said a while ago, even suggested criticism that will give the opponents of Britain what they are looking for, an opportunity of saying that the Commonwealth Nations are not united behind Great Britain. They seek every Opportunity to do that and in certain sections of the European press every advantage is taken of any opportunity. I used to spell it out in my limping French, far into the night, the criticisms that came from some of these people who believe that the British nation is trying to dominate the world for selfish purposes.
Another feature, that you know more about than I do, of the British development of the last few years is her remarkable recovery, industrially, commercially and financially, away ahead of anything, else in the world. Now, how did that happen? When the depression hit her hardest and it did hit her hard, millions of industrial workers walked the streets. You remember, Britain decided that the man who had given up his work, his employment, providing for his wife, to go to war and defend the country should be taken care of when he came back and they devised an unemployment insurance or relief scheme which is called the Dole. They call it the Dole when it is abused, and that is pretty often, but unemployment insurance when it is well observed. The principle is sound. The difficulty is in the details of working it out. Britain, instead of devising codes, fixing standards, wages and hours and living conditions by which to regulate trade, as some other countries did, realized that you ought to get some business before you begin to regulate. There is no object in setting up a great organization if it has nothing to do except create agitation and friction and dissatisfaction, and the old British fellow said, "The first thing for us to do is to ,re-establish our credit in the world, to get back the confidence which the world has been placing in us for years and the way to do that is to show them we can live within our income, that we are not wasteful or extravagant. In other words, we must balance our budget. We must keep our public expenditures within our revenues," and they did that. And while others were building a house from the roof down they began to build a structure from the foundation up. When she got her budget balanced she knew what would happen. In every country where uncertainty, dissatisfaction and jeopardy existed for investment and money and all the rest of it, they all began by overhead and underground and every other devious method to bring their money to London, because they said, "There are a people that are carrying on their business thriftily and on sound lines," and the Englishman got what he was after. He got more money than he knew what to do with in London in a very little while. With what result? Why they are worse than you are, the bankers there. They won't pay you anything at all for deposits over there, they have so much money. The result is that money goes out and looks for an opportunity to earn something for the man who owns it and it goes into building, it goes into industrial opportunity, it goes into every phase of business activity, looking for a chance to earn something for the man to whom it belongs. What is the result? The wheels begin to turn, the shop-keepers see the revenue come in, the payrolls are increased, until today they have a million more people working in England than there ever were in her history. (Applause.) Yet, she has a couple of million people unemployed; perhaps to put it fairly, I think a little over a million unemployed„ the others are unemployable for one reason and another. And this condition even with the unemployed would not exist except for the reason that there has been no migration. Before the war she sent away a quarter of a million, sometimes far more than that, annually. During the war of course the great casualty lists cut off the annual supply at about the same rate. Since that time there has been nothing but an accumulation of people and her efforts to find new employment with all the world competition against her, including Czechoslovakia and Japan and these places that can produce so much cheaper, she has increased the payroll to the extent of about a million workers. That is a record that is unparalleled in the world and it is due to what? It is due to the genius of a well balanced judgment of what we sometimes call phlegmatic, stupid Englishmen. That is the sort of people they are. They make no fuss about these things and those of you who have had an opportunity of coming in contact with them and doing business with them, I am sure will endorse what I say.
I, as High Commissioner, was a sort of glorified sales agent for Canada and I went about a good deal to places like Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield and so on and I have been in a lot of them recently. You know in Sheffield they couldn't get men enough. In Birmingham the situation is about the same. A tremendous change in the whole situation in a few years. She is leading the world again, financially, industrially and commercially and will continue to do so. (Applause.) That is the reason I think that we should cling to the: opportunity there is for us over there, that we should cultivate contacts, improve our relations, interpret one to another our peculiar situations and try and wipe out the differences that create friction.
Now, I felt that was my job over there, to go about and sell Canada to Great Britain and sell Britain's goods to this country because it is only in that way that we are ever going to consolidate the whole imperial organization. As a matter of fact my job was to contribute what I could to annihilate the 3,000 miles of ocean that lies between here and Great Britain by promoting trips across, encouraging trade and business. That has been my job and that is what I tried to do.
Now, there is just one other thing that I think is fundamental to the existence and success of any country, particularly a country that is imbued and inspired by the ideals that underly British life and British citizenship. This year, as you know, the 25th anniversary of the accession of King George was celebrated and it was celebrated by everybody. One cannot conceive, no matter what you heard over the wires here, those who had the good fortune to be there during that time, as I was, will understand when I say that people at home couldn't conceive of the warmth and enthusiasm of affection for the monarch and his family that was displayed on that occasion.
Can you imagine 500,000 people standing nearly all night at your front door to see you come out? I never had as many as that. (Laughter.) They stood all night. We lived where we overlooked St. James Park and the King, to give the poorer people full opportunity of enjoying that marvellous pageant and demonstration, ordered that all the parks should be opened all night and he had the police arrange that there should be no vehicular traffic within a mile, a large radius anyway, the idea being that these people who came from away down in the east end wouldn't be run over and killed by motor cars,, perhaps; and could sleep out in the open in the parks. Tens of thousands of them did. We looked out of our windows and saw them sleeping there, newspapers over them, a little bag of lunch with them. All were waiting to see the King and Queen in the morning. Nothing has ever occurred like it in the world and all so good-natured.
It reminded me of an incident a short time before that. The King and Queen went down to lay the corner stone of the new King College in Rosebery, and going out of my office door with one of the European Ambassadors from a very important country, we stopped to look at the little pageant. There were two carriages, a dozen out-riders and a couple of policemen on motorcycles ahead, but it is a British sight. I said to him, "Your Excellency" (because we call one another "Your Excellency" over there, don't forget that) I said, "Your Excellency, I like that sort of thing." He said, "I love it. That is the life blood of this country. That is what keeps this country going. There is no place in the world except one other country that I know of where the monarch can ride through the streets in an open carriage without a soldier anywhere near." A tribute to the steadiness of the Britisher and his loyalty.
Now, that pervaded all through that great demonstration that went on for so long. Policemen held their hands together to keep the crowd back. I remember we were going down to St. Paul's, my wife and I were privileged to go there, and the procession was halted every here and there and there were tens of thousands of people jammed in on the sides of the street, and of course the crowd would surge back and forth. This is just an example of the way they treat the crowd. A big fat policeman was pushed a bit, he looked around and here was a group of women. He said, "Get up there, Mary, I'll step on your toes if you don't." That has quite a different effect from saying, "Here you„ get back there." The whole thing was so good natured and was such an enthusiastic acclaim of affection everywhere. You know the King laid out four official drives, north, south, east and west, with all the pageantry, because the Britisher loves pageantry. So do I. Mysticism is the greatest influence in the world and the mysticism that surrounds monarchy and all the old traditional institutions creates an atmosphere that has a wonderful effect. I confess I am inoculated with it. The King as I say, started driving about and the people were so enthusiastic everywhere they could scarcely get through and then with the great human heart that he has he said, "There are back streets and byways that don't see this procession," and as an Englishman he said to the Queen, "Mary, we must have a drive over to Camberwell," and they drove over there. With nothing but their motor car and two or three men with them, they came to the end of a little street all decorated with coloured paper; all had signs, even the poorest people. The King was greatly taken with a banner up across the front of this little narrow street and on that banner was in rough printing: "Lousy, but Loyal." (Laughter.) I didn't credit that story but I asked some newspaper fellows and they said it was likely the truth. They went over to see for themselves and it was actually true.
Again, I say, you don't see such things as that in any other country in the world. The affection for the King, for the Monarchy, is marvellous, really.
I remember during the strike - I told you (The President) I wouldn't tell a story at all - but I remember when the boys and girls and the students drove the trams and busses and all that sort of thing. Nobody interfered with them. Everybody laughed at them and a friend from across the line was over there and he, with some others, was watching the movements around the strike. Just then the King drove down the Mall, the street that comes down from the palace. Of course everybody takes his hat off and there was a little group, obviously, workers on strike and the American friend said, "Why, that is funny. Those fellows look like strikers. Why should they take off their hats to the King?" I said, "Let us go over and ask them." We went over and they said, "Yes, we are strikers, we are bus drivers and tram drivers." The American said, "Why should you take off your hat to the King when you are striking against the very conditions that create this thing?" A little fellow looked up at him and said, "Why, you bloke, that's the King." That is the spirit that exists all through that country, all over the British Isles.
Now, the demonstration showed two or three things - and I am finished. In the first place, as I said, it showed an affectionate devotion to the Sovereign and the Royal family, I suppose unparalleled anywhere in the world, I am sure unparalleled in the world. It was an emphatic declaration as was amply proven by the recent election that all the modern nostrums like Fascism and Bolshevism and the other isms can't find any root in the soil of Britain. (Applause.) There is a handful of them and of course the smaller the dog is the more he barks.
Second, it showed to my mind a spirit of determination. That was the universal idea, that the institutions that have guaranteed liberty and security to the world and have weathered the storm of vicissitude and turbulence all over the world, that today give leadership to world opinions, are institutions worth while preserving and will live longer than you and I can look into the future, or our children or our children's children, with. all British people enjoying the blessings of monarchical government on a representative system such as we enjoy in this country today. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT: After hearing Mr. Ferguson today one could not help but be proud of his citizenship in the British Empire. One could not help but be proud of those people in the Old Land who have done so much during the past few years to keep this old world out of chaos and one could not help but be proud of having as our representative in the Old Land, Mr. Ferguson during these trying times.
I am sure I am expressing on your behalf our very sincere thanks for this remarkable message that he has brought to us. Shortly Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson are leaving Toronto. They are going to spend their Christmas back at the old home, back with the old home friends and I know I am expressing your thoughts when I extend to Mr. Ferguson our Best Wishes for a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. (Applause.)