SOME ASPECTS OF THE MIGRATION PROBLEM
AN ADDRESS BY SIR FRANCIS FLOUR, K.C.B.
Thursday, 26th November, 1936
PRESIDENT: My Lord, Sir Francis and Gentlemen: We are particularly fortunate in the Empire Club of Canada in having opportunities to hear guest-speakers from Great Britain who are willing to discuss with us the problems of Empire and to do what has been so aptly put, very recently in this Club, that 'is to create the spirit of understanding and goodwill which will lead to a permanent peace and the carrying on of friendship, not only in the British Empire but the whole of the civilized world. We are today delighted to have with us a speaker who is particularly qualified, not only by his official position of High Commissioner for Great Britain in Canada, but because of his experience in the old Country as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour arid in the Ministry of Agriculture, to address us on the subject he has chosen. The subject of his address is "Some Aspects of the Migration Problem." We, in Canada, look on the migration problem as the immigration problem. It will be interesting, indeed, to hear some of the discussion from a viewpoint which has possibly been described as the emigration problem. I have much pleasure in introducing Sir Francis Floud.
SIR FRANCIS FLOUR, K.C.B.: Mr. President, My Lord, and Gentlemen: In choosing the subject of migration to talk to you today, I should like to make it plain, in the first place, that I am not here to advocate any particular policy on this subject. As you know, migration at the present moment has been suspended for some time and the question whether it should be reopened is obviously one, in the first place, for the decision of the Canadian Government, and not the Government of the United Kingdom. It is for the Canadian Government to say when they think the time has come when migration into Canada may again be resumed. That time is obviously dependent on whether they are satisfied that the economic conditions for migration are favourable and that settlers from the Old Country or from other parts of the world can be absorbed into the life of Canada without doing harm to the Canadian people themselves. Consequently, the United Kingdom Government would not wish to press for the stimulation or assistance of migration until the conditions are favourable, arid until Canada wants it and is ready to co-operate in making it a real success. But I think that the present time, when the question is in suspense is an opportune time to consider some of the problems that arise on the question of migration and also to correct some of the misapprehensions which are current, not only in Canada but perhaps even more in the United Kingdom itself.
The first point I would like to make is that we, in the Old Country, don't regard the emigration of our people as a remedy for our problem of unemployment. We have got to shoulder our own burden in regard to unemployment and I think you would agree that on the whole we are doing it not unsuccessfully. (Applause.) There has been a very remarkable reduction in unemployment during the last three or four years and we have never desired to shift any part of our burden of unemployment on to the other Dominions arid the other parts of the Empire. The experience of the past has shown that migration, is a symptom of prosperity .and not a cure far depression.
There is another fallacy which has been somewhat common on which I would like to say a word also. I have heard it said in Canada and in the United Kingdom that there is a large accumulated fund available for the purpose of assisting migration under the Empire Settlement Act. That is a complete fallacy. The Empire Settlement Act was passed in 1922, with the object of authorising cooperation between the Old Country and the Dominions in the assistance of migration, and it provided that for a period of fifteen years schemes might be agreed upon between the different parts of the Empire and that financial contributions on the basis of an equal sharing of the cost might be made by the United Kingdom and the Dominions. The Act placed a limit on the amount of money that might be provided for that purpose, that it should not exceed £ 3,000,000 in any one year. In point of fact that limit has never anything like been reached. The total expenditure on the part of the United Kingdom since 1922 has amounted to £6,000,000, mainly in the form of assistance toward the cost of passages of migrants from the Old Country to other parts of the Empire. It is sometimes supposed, therefore, that as the Act prescribed a maximum amount of £45,000,000, for the fifteen years, that the difference between that amount and the £6,000,000 that has been spent was still lying in the till, ready to be drawn upon when desired. That is not the case. In the Old Country, as, I think, in Canada, we have a wise provision in our financial system under which if money is voted by Parliament for some particular purpose and is not required to be spent in the year, it goes back into the Exchequer and is not available for future expenditure. That is what has happened with regard to the Empire Settlement Act so I hope 'it will not be supposed that there is this large sum, or indeed any sum, sitting idle, waiting to be expended for the purpose of settling people from the Old Country in Canada and the other parts of the Empire.
It is sometimes suggested also that it would be a good thing if a large scheme of migration was set on foot, the whole cost of which should be borne by the Treasury of the United Kingdom, in view of the fact that Canada is ready to provide land, that it has a great system of transportation, that it has expended large capital sums in developing its own country, and consequently that if the Old Country wishes to send migrants over here the whole of the cost of that operation should be borne by the taxpayers of the United Kingdom. That, I think, is not a proposition that would ever be favoured by the Government of the United Kingdom and I venture to suggest, also, it would not be in the best interests of Canada itself.
If we are going to encourage migration from the Old Country to Canada it is surely of the first importance that the men and women who come here should become good Canadians. Canada has gained independent nationhood. She is mistress in her own house and the last thing, I suggest, that you should want would be a large incursion of people from the Old Country who would not regard Canada as their adopted home but who would always be looking back to the Old Country and looking to them for support when they got into difficulties. (Applause.) You don't want a sort of an alien enclave in the middle of Canada looking not to Canada but to the Old Country as its spiritual home.
Another consideration that I think we have to bear in mind is that the days of mass migration, of the kind that took place before the war and to some extent since the war in Canada, are probably over. In the year 1913, 400,000 emigrants came to Canada, of whom 120,000 were from the United Kingdom. In 1935 that number had fallen to 12,000, of whom only 2,000 came from the United Kingdom, and whereas in the years from 1926 to 1930, there was a net gain of immigration over emigration of 287,000 in Canada, in the four last years, from, 1931 to 1935, there was an actual net loss of 60,000. That is to say, instead of there being a movement from the Old Country to Canada, the majority went the other way and there was a larger movement from Canada back to the Old Country.
Now, this question of migration has, of course, been considered at most of the Imperial Conferences that have been held in recent years. At the Imperial Conference of 1926 there was a resolution passed saying it was impracticable, owing to financial, economic and political considerations, to promote mass movements of population, and that resolution was endorsed by the Conference that sat in 1930 and they pointed out also that the primary consideration should be, not the conditions in the country which the settler is leaving but the absorptive capacity of the country to which he is proceeding. Now, when you consider the absorptive capacity of Canada, people, of course, are obviously struck by what we call the wide open spaces and the comparative small density of the population compared to the old countries of Europe. But there are a good many fallacies in that. There was a Committee appointed in 1932, under the Chairmanship of Lord Astor, which went very carefully into this question and they came to the conclusion that Canada might absorb something like 40,000 people a year from the United Kingdom when conditions became favourable, arid the Canadian Government themselves have pointed out that the annual surplus in Canada of births over deaths, amounting to 125,000 a year, affords in itself in considerable measure the increase in population which is practicable and desirable under present conditions. They pointed out also that immigration is not feasible until the absorption of the unemployed in Canada, itself consisting 'in substantial' measure of comparatively recent immigrants, has reached a further stage.
It is pertinent also to bear in mind that even in the days where large numbers of immigrants were coming here, they didn't represent .all net gain. The population of Canada doubled in the period from 1901 to the end of 1931. It rose from 5,000,000 at the beginning of the century to something like 10,000,000 in 1931 and, during that time, the total number of emigrants coming to Canada. was just about equal to the increase in the population5,000000. But there was also the natural increase of Canada's own population by the excess of births over deaths and that amounted to 3,300,000, and the consequence is that the net increase in the population of Canada, made up of immigrants arid the natural increase was offset by something over 3,400,000 people who left Canada for other parts of the world during that period. To put it shortly, out of every 50 migrants who came to Canada, only about 16 or 17 constituted a net addition to the population.
There is another factor also which must be taken into account. That is that it seems unlikely that there will be much further large development of the wheat area. The expansion of the wheat area in Canada has largely been linked up with the great mass migrations that have taken place. I was reading the other day a very interesting report of a soil survey of a large part of the Province of Saskatchewan. This survey covered something like two-fifths of the Province, all that part which is settled, and they pointed out that the era of rapid agricultural development of new land is at an end. Out of something like 94,000 square miles which formed the subject of that survey it is estimated that only about 30 per cent can be classed as good agricultural land, and something like 44 per cent is ranked as poor or very poor. Obviously, that is not the class of land on which it would be wise to try and settle a large number of people from other parts of the world.
We must also bear in mind that there has been in the immigration of the past a fairly considerable element of foreign peoples from other parts of the world. At the present time in the prairie provinces the number of people of British birth number 316,000; as against that the 'foreign born are more than double, 633,000, and there has been in recent years a tendency for the foreign born proportion of the total population of Canada to increase. I don't wish for a moment to suggest that a very large number of these foreign born immigrants have not made very good settlers. We all know that they have but, at the same time, speaking to the Empire Club of Canada, I think I might perhaps be permitted to say that we believe it would be in the best interests, not only of the United Kingdom, but of Canada itself, if and when migration can be resumed, that every effort should be made to have as large a proportion as possible of the new settlers coming from the Old Country with the traditions which we share in common with you. (Applause.)
But, apart from all these factors I have already mentioned, there is one which perhaps dominates the situation more than any other. I suppose the most important feature in the world at the present time is the tendency to a decline in population in most of the white countries of world. It has been going on gradually for some time but the effect has been masked by the fact that the drop in the birth-rate has been largely counterbalanced by a corresponding drop in the death rate. The birth-rate in England and Wales has fallen from 35 per 1,000 in the years from 1870 to 1880 to 14 per 1,000 at the present time, a drop of more than a half. At the same time, the death rate has fallen from 25 per 1,000 to 12 and, consequently there has been still a gradual though smaller increase in population in each period between the respective censuses. Canada 'is fortunate in having a death rate a good deal lower than we have in the Old Country. It is only 9 per 1,000, but even in Canada there are signs that the birth rate is steadily falling. It was 24 per 1,000 in the years of 1926 to 1930. In 1934 it had fallen to 20, and even in the Province of Quebec which is proverbial for its large families it has fallen from 30 to 25. That is a process which is going on almost all over the world. There are some exceptions. There is a very high birth rate still in Japan, over 30 per 1,000. In Russia it is something like 38 and in India it is 35, but in all the great, highly civilized countries of the world this same tendency is going on and it is bound to have a very profound effect on the possibility of any large scale migration in the future.
So far as Great Britain is concerned if the fall in the birth rate continues and there is no net migration it has been estimated that the population of Great Britain will fall by 12,000,000 in the next 40 years. Now, that is going to have some very serious consequences for all of us. It is going to mean for one thing, which is of interest to Canada, a very substantial shrinkage in the British market for the purchase of Canadian goods. It is going to mean a fall in the demand for food, houses, land and education. It is going to mean a greatly increased burden of taxation on the people of our country and it is going to be coupled with a very large increase in the proportion of the old people in the population. Some very striking figures have been got out on that point by some of our statisticians. If the total population falls by 25 per cent in the next 40 years the population under 45 years of age will fall by 50 percent and whereas at the present time we have something like 3,000,000 old people, over 65 years of age, in 40 years time it looks as though we shall have nearly 6,000,000. Side by side with that there is going to be a tremendous drop in the number of children. Whereas we have now something dike 10,000,000 children under 15, in 40 years time we shall have only 4,000,000.
Now, that abnormal age distribution is going to be a very serious factor for all of us. It is going to mean that the burden on the .men and women of working age is going to be greatly increased. They are going to have a very much larger number of old people to support and it is going to mean also that the reserve available for migration is going to be very small indeed. In fact we might say from our own point of view it seems unlikely we shall have any substantial surplus for migration to other parts of. the Empire and, as I said, side by side with that there is going to be a reduced demand in the Old Country for the goods you produce.
It seems clear, therefore, that if Canada wants in the future to have British migrants it will be essential that the conditions should be made really attractive. Settlers are unlikely to leave the familiar surroundings and the amenities to which they have been accustomed in the Old Country unless they can see a really good prospect of improving their conditions and raising their standard of life by coming to other parts of the Empire, and in that connection, I would suggest, that it would be wise not to try and paint the picture in too rosy colours. I remember in, the days when I was associated with the Ministry of Agriculture, there was a very efficient and vigorous propaganda carried out in all parts of our rural districts, trying to persuade our agricultural and rural population to come and settle in Canada, but I think the picture was often painted in too rosy colours. Canada was depicted as a land of apple blossom, waving corn and perpetual sunshine and, although I should be the last to deny that you have all of those three in abundant measure, after all, it is not the whole of the picture, and unless the settler, is warned that he has got to face a very severe climate, that if he is going out to the west he has got to put up with. a good deal of loneliness, that he may find himself planted down among rather an alien population, that he will find a considerable lack of the social amenities to which he has been accustomed, unless he is warned of that and goes into 'it with his eyes open, there are bound to be far more disappointments and failures than we should wish to see.
I think it is also well to remember that any scheme of land settlement on the unoccupied land of Canada is bound to be pretty expensive and a rather speculative business. I take as an example the scheme that was set in operation not many years ago for settling 3,000 British families in different parts of the Dominion, mainly in the Prairie Provinces. 3,300 British families came out. At the present time there are only 1,700 left on the farms. Over 1,000 of them found work in other directions in Canada. 310 of the families, just under 10 percent of the total, returned to Great Britain in despair. The total coast has been something like $16,000,000 and it was hoped that that amount would be repaid gradually over a period of 25 years. Unfortunately, as we all know, that part of the country has been very hard hit in the last six or seven years by drought and bad harvests. The result is that the repayments up to the present have not amounted to more than $2,000,000. In the first year 53 per cent of the settlers repaid the amount due on their loans. Last year only 2 percent were able to do so and it is quite clear, therefore, that the losses, both to Canada and to the United Kingdom on that scheme are bound to be very heavy. The average capital debt of each settler when he took up his land was just over $5,000. It has already been necessary to make substantial reductions for which we are very much indebted to the co-operation and the generosity of the Canadian Government, but even, now, in spite of the fact that 30 per cent of the debt has been let off, and that considerable reductions are being made under the Farmers Creditors Arrangement Act, the average arrears of interest alone for each, settler remaining is over $400.
Now, those are rather depressing figures but they do show that the kind of schemes that are often advocated of large scale group settlement do require very careful consideration. The old days of homesteading seem to be over and if people are to come out from the Old Country, I suggest that opportunity ought to be open to then, not only for settlement on the land but in order that they may take their part in the other developments of Canadian life. One of the most striking features in recent years has been the remarkable development in your mining industry and I should hope when economic conditions improve, as they are already showing signs of improving, that there may be some opportunity for people from the Old Country to come and share in that great development of your natural resources.
Now, I don't want you to feel, although I feel bound to point out, perhaps, some of the difficulties and some of the rather depressing features in this problem, I don't want you to feel that I am trying to put a damper on any idea of migration in the future. As I have said, it is a matter for the Government of Canada to decide when it can be resumed, but when that day comes, and I hope it may come soon, I think there are, in spite of the difficulties, real possibilities of quite a considerable movement from the United Kingdom to Canada. We have been able in recent years to draw closer the bonds of trade between the two countries and the more we can develop that the more favourable is likely to be the opportunity for migration from the Old Country, but we must remember that migration has got to be linked with the economic conditions of the country. The fact that there might at any time be a surplus population in the United Kingdom and large unoccupied spaces in Canada does not mean that mere transference of one to the other is going to be any solution of the difficulties of either country. It may, indeed, make matters worse. It is essential that the settlers should feel that they are likely to be able to make a living in the country to which they go and the mere provision of capital by the United Kingdom for new settlers cannot in itself produce the prosperity that is an essential condition of success. What we ought to do, therefore, I suggest, is to work together in every way that we can to try and create the conditions that are favourable to a resumption of migration and to remember that it is prosperity and not depression that is the governing factor in the matter.
Then, finally, I think we should try and keep a sense of proportion 'in this matter. Grandiose schemes of group settlement on the land are not really going to be an adequate solution. It has been estimated that even the most that could be done in that way would be perhaps the settlement of some 2,500 people each year, say 10,000 persons, including their families, -and that is not going to make any very substantial impression on the population of Canada. But 'if we can create favourable conditions for a free, independent and profitable occupation for the people who desire to come here, I am quite confident that there will be no lack of response in the old Country, where the spirit of enterprise and adventure is just as strong among our people as it has ever been in the past, as I think has been shown by the remarkable recovery that we have made from the depths of the depression.
(Hearty applause.) PRESIDENT: Sir Francis, may I add to the demonstration you have already heard in this meeting, the thanks of all within the sound of your voice on the radio and all who may later read the report which will appear in the Year Book of the Empire Club of Canada of your speech given us today. It will be a valuable bit of literature in the hands of -our future statesmen and all loyal Canadians, all members of the British Empire. You have not only given us the outline of the problems of migration, but of the broader subject of population itself. I can only add, Sir, that it is evident that your reputation for effectiveness with self-effacement, so characteristic of your race, has been duly demonstrated by this speech. Thank you. (Applause.)