CONDITIONS IN BRITAIN AND EUROPE
AN ADDRESS BY HON. G. HOWARD FERGUSON, K.C., PRIME MINISTER OF ONTARIO
4th October, 1928
PRESIDENT FENNELL introduced the speaker, remarking that the Prime Minister of Ontario surely had not been in mind when the statement was made "a prophet is not without honour save in his own country," for the Prime Minister of Ontario is honoured, renowned and beloved in Ontario. (Applause.)
HON. PREMIER FERGUSON was received with loud applause, the audience rising and cheering, and he also ventured to quote Scripture-"Woe unto you when all men speak well of you." (Great Laughter.) He then proceeded to present a Union Jack to the Club on behalf of the Royal Empire Society; and then said:
What I have to say today will be the impressions I gathered from almost a kaleidoscopic view of the conditions in the countries I visited last summer. I lacked the time to make a very close study of conditions, yet even brief contact sometimes gives sound impressions. I visited France and Switzerland and spent some time in Germany, Denmark, Holland, Sweden and Norway in five weeks, so you will realize that my opportunities in any one country were limited.
Nobody can take even the most casual glance at the situation in Europe without being impressed with the outstanding progress that the German people are making. Everywhere you find thrift, industry, efficiency-on the farm, in the factory, in the store, on the street. Everybody is working at top speed, and Germany has practically no unemployment, or at any rate no unemployment problem. 'Bountiful crops are universal, and the German people have a different philosophy to what we have; they believe in hard work, while it seems to me the Anglo-Saxon peoples believe in escaping hard work.
Men, women and children in Germany work in fields practically from dawn until dark. They work long hours in the factories at very moderate wages. The cost of living is reasonably low, much lower than in Canada, and even lower than in Great Britain. A strong impression was left on my mind not only as to their industrial and agricultural development, but also as to the marvelous forestry schemes. There is not a waste acre on any farm that has not been planted and that is not producing wealth in the form of new forest; and one of the Ministers told me that their legislation requires that a man who owns a farm cannot cut the forest at will, but must make application to a branch of the Government which tells him what trees he may cut, because they regard timber as a great national asset that must be preserved for all time. So we can all take lessons from the Germans, not only in efficiency methods, in industrial activities, but in their outlook for the future expansion of their great nation. There is no doubt in my mind that within a reasonably short time the German people are going to say to the League of Nations, or some other organization that has a dominant voice in world affairs-"This hive is filled; we must swarm; we are entitled to go somewhere;" and this whole problem will be before the world's court again. What is to be done with the surplus German population and the surplus German products?
Denmark is a most interesting, though small, country. There they farm almost on the scale of kitchen gardens in places. I saw a farm of ten acres in Denmark on which a man was maintaining three cows, a couple of pigs and some hens, and a wife and three children, and was making a comfortable living. Of course up in Jutland you find some large estates, but Danish farms generally run from 25 to 50 acres, and in the intensively developed portions you find thrift and energy, and the ground well cultivated, fertilizers being used in great quantities, with the result that that little country which produces per capita its full share of the world's production gets 87 percent of that production from agriculture. I wish I had time to tell you of some opportunities I had of closely studying the situation there.
I was interested in the Danish educational system, and I think that perhaps I picked up a thought or two that I may be able some time during the next fifteen or twenty years to weave into the educational system of the Province of Ontario. (Laughter and applause.) For some years I have been reading of the educational problems and conditions there, and I was struck with a type of school that is called "the People's School." I had the opportunity of spending a day at one of those schools, which is a sort of spirituelle enterprise. Those schools are private organizations subsidized by the Government. The pupils live entirely in them; for five months in the winter they take boys ranging from 17 to 22 years of age, and girls of similar age during the summer. They give them a little bit of academic training, but they emphasize history and literature; and they point with great pride to men like Grundtvig and the great confidence that he and others showed in the future for Denmark in the face of almost insurmountable odds, but they managed to draw together all the potential factors that make up one of the busiest little hives of activity in Europe today. Those pupils are impressed with a national consciousness, a pride of country, an emulation of the activities, and a breadth of vision and patriotism of the men who went before them.
Let me tell you just an incident. The portions of Denmark that came back under the settlement-Holstein and Schleswig-had been invaded very largely by the German people who, through their banking organizations, had been advancing money to the Danish peasants or farmers over a large area. Since the settlement they have been pinching the Danes and foreclosing upon their obligations, and in some cases driving them off their farms. A popular movement has arisen, with a propaganda to create a public opinion to support a popular subscription to pay off those obligations in the national interest. (Applause.) I was at a meeting held on a Sunday afternoon in a huge forest, attended by 2,000 people-men, women and children-and at the close of the meeting school girls were coming to the treasurer and having their money changed so that each and every one of them could make a contribution to relieve people of their own flesh and blood from the persecution of their enemies and to give them the opportunity to make progress and be good citizens in their own country. (Applause.) That is the type of patriotism that you find in Denmark. You find much the same conditions and spirit in Holland.
Unfortunately I did not have quite the same opportunity of seeing things in Norway as I did in Sweden; the weather was a bit against us. I was tremendously impressed with Sweden, not only its industrial development with paper, but its great forestry and metal industries, and its power expansion-three of the great outstanding features of its progress. But its people also impressed me. The style of living, the manner of carrying on their affairs, the personal contact that told me that the Swedish people had a spirit nearer akin to us than any people I found anywhere on the European continent-a splendid, thrifty, cleanly, progressive, intelligent people; and if I can do anything to induce the Swedes and other Scandanavian races to take part in the settlement and development of this country, I will feel that I have achieved something for the advancement of Canada. (Applause.)
Travelling there I was impressed with some of the fertile valleys of Sweden. Those of you who have been in France know how the average farmer there puts his buildings in a hollow square in which everybody faces the manure pile in the centre of that square, the aroma being equally divided between the residents, the animals and everyone who comes in. (Laughter.) In Switzerland the average farmer keeps his stock under the house so as to keep him warm, I fancy. In Germany, except in the case of the progressive farmer, their buildings are great long structures, the family living in one end, the cattle in the centre, and the produce is kept in the other end. But up in Sweden the buildings are all separate and distinct, and I have never seen anywhere such uniformly splendid bank barns and such wonderfully well laid out farm operations as I found in Sweden. Something that put me to shame in regard to our own conditions here-and it is only a little thing was that practically every farm building in Sweden is painted. (Hear, hear.) Almost universally they paint their buildings red, with white trimmings; and when you see those buildings with a surrounding of green forests all about, they form a marvellous spectacle of beauty and restful quiet, with evidence of thrifty conditions all around.
I went over to Norway for a little while, but unfortunately when I got up on the mountain the fog got there, too, and I had not an opportunity of seeing all that I would have liked. But I satisfied myself upon some things that I did see. One was that there is a surplus of population in Norway that can be well absorbed here. They are of a little different type from the Swedes. One would be almost amazed to find that two peoples living so closely together, having been part and parcel under one king for a century, should be so distinct in type. The difference is due to the difference in the character of the land and the different occupations that they follow; yet there are splendid industrious, thrifty Norwegians, that are looking for opportunities in a new land.
What the Norwegians need and what all Europe needs, and the British Isles also, if we are to get immigration, is more accurate and truthful stories about the conditions that exist in this country. (Hear, hear and applause.) In every country I was in I visited some transportation offices, and some I visited in Great Britain. I went in everywhere and asked for some literature about the Province of Ontario. Well, I found that some agents had never heard of such a place, and where I did get Canadian literature, the illustrations were entirely of life of the Western people such as my friend here, Mr. Bracken, represents-wheat fields, threshing operations, cattle ranches. In other words, there was not anything to indicate the diversity of opportunities that exists in Canada for people who want to come here. Well, I think we have taken some steps to cure that, even at the expense of the Province. (Applause.)
Then I turned my steps towards the centre and heart and inspiration of all things good and great-the British Empire-(Hear, hear and applause.)-and I am bound to say that when one gets back there, notwithstanding the deep impression of the beauties of mountains and streams and waterfall and field found in Europe, there is a matured, finished restfulness about the countryside in England, with their flowers and hedges and majestic old buildings, that is not to be found anywhere else in the world. (Hear, hear and applause.) And they are a people of a spirit and temperament and genius that in my opinion cannot be equalled anywhere in the world except possibly here in Ontario. (Laughter and applause.)
I had been in the British Isles three years ago, and of course I was interested in comparing present conditions with what I felt they were then. I was profoundly struck with the wonderful change in spirit, and improvement in organized business conditions that have come about in three years. It is almost incredible to one who has not had the opportunity of seeing it. Three years ago, as you recall, the whole social and labour situation was chaotic; employers with large investments were discouraged and depressed; transportation systems were practically broken down, people were seeking to evade the payment of their legitimate taxes, and that sort of thing, to enable them to live; wonderful historic old estates and establishments were being cut into small holdings because people could not afford to maintain them; a spirit almost of despair seemed to be abroad amongst the average citizenship in Britain. Today that whole situation has completely altered, and you find not only optimism and faith, but everywhere you find confidence that Britain has crossed the peak- of the hill and is again on the highway to great progress and advancement. (Applause.)
Expressing my own view, which perhaps is not worth very much, particularly alongside of men who have to do with these things, I was inclined to think that because .the British Isles had for centuries maintained a position of leadership I was going to say splendid isolation, at any rate an insular position-that she could go on for all time, sufficient unto herself, without looking beyond her boundaries for aid. The war rudely shook that out of their system. The whole revolution of economic and business conditions set the Englishman thinking; and he thinks slowly and deliberately but, best of all, he thinks sanely. It may take him some time to make up his mind, but when he has done so you may be sure that his judgment is based upon no selfish consideration, but upon broad, sound lines for the betterment of the world and the betterment of their nation as a whole. (Applause.)
Now, that situation was brought about by the shaking up of recognized economic principles-perhaps not principles but rules. Many new factors had entered into the problem. The ship building industry was badly shattered because after the close of the war there was a tremendous surplus of shipping that was bought at very low prices, so that the great shipbuilding yards of England, Scotland and Ireland suffered tremendously and to some extent are suffering yet. When I went into the shipyards of Harland & Wolff I was glad to hear the tap of -the hammer from end to end of the place thousands of men busily engaged, as they were in years gone by; and the future of the shipbuilding industry is assured to Britain as it always has been. (Hear, hear and applause.)
Then a situation developed in their coal fields. As you know, the use of oil in so many different departments of activity rendered the consumption of their coal much less. Besides that, coal mining in Britain is an expensive operation compared with what it is elsewhere. Old coal areas like the Forest of Dean and places of that kind are pretty well exhausted, and it costs a lot of money to get a ton of coal to the surface, and the quality of what they take out now is not always good; so that all this unemployment that has occurred in the coal industry is due very largely, to my mind, to what may be expressed in those few words.
Then another thing that none of us ever thought of played havoc with one of the leading industries of the British, and that was the development in the manufacture of artificial silk. That has given the Irish linen industry a blow from which I doubt if it will ever fully recover. It has hurt the cotton business of Lancashire mills. It had a tremendous effect on the employment of men and women in all those great enterprises. That situation has to be met and overcome.
Now, what are the remedies which Britain proposes? First, I remember hearing Mr. Baldwin, the Prime Minister, three years ago emphasize on the floor of the House of Commons, the greatest remedy that could be applied to their condition-that of research, investigation, the discovery of improved methods of manufacture, and the elimination of waste in their industrial life. (Hear, hear.) Let me tell you what Britain has done. In 1913 she spent $20,000 in research; last year she spent over $15,000,000-(Applause)-and she has today about 4,000 active professors, full-time students, and other experts working on investigations in universities and in private laboratories, seeing if new methods cannot be found to cheapen the cost of their products, to improve their quality, and to guarantee manufacturers the opportunity to maintain their place well up with the other nations of the world. In England, as in all progressive countries of the world, research is looked forward to to conquer some of the most difficult problems, and solve many of the difficulties that retard our progress here and in Great Britain.
Another thing they are doing or have to do-and it is a most difficult thing-is the transplanting of their population internally, because they have to systematically organize their attack upon their conditions, at least their methods of relief-internally, by research the movement of their population from one section to another, and they are undertaking in many places to move the population bodily, to try and educate them and train them to the adoption of new methods of employment. Now, Englishmen do not talk about these things. If this occurred in some other countries we could speak of there would be headlines in the press about the wonderful things the nation was doing--(Laughter)--but the Englishman just muddles along and gets through with it; and they are doing these things. They have training farms in England; I visited two of them and spent some time. They are taking boys who have been brought up in coal districts and know nothing about agriculture, and training them so that they can be put on the land. They are spending enormous sums of money trying to readjust their own situation within their own country, so as to be able to recover her position.
And then-and here I do not want to be charged with colouring my remarks with any political feeling-they have realized, as nearly all countries in the world have realized, and as all parties in this country have realized, that there are differences in economic, climatic, transportation and other conditions that exist between countries that can only be overcome by some sort of safeguarding or protection-you dare not call it protection in England. England realizes that if she wishes to maintain a decent standard for her workmen something must be done to keep the Czecho-Slavic and other people from driving them under the ropes. They have said, "Every industry that is basic to diversified development we will investigate, and if we think they need it, we will give them some protection under our safeguarding legislation." (Hear, hear and applause.) They have done that in the automobile industry, and it is marvellous what has been done over there in the manufacture of automobiles and in the rubber tire industry and others. Those are helping to take the place of other industries that had existed there for years but that have been forced to the wall by new conditions.
Then a word as to their outlook. Almost for the first time in history the British Isles are looking to the overseas portions of the Empire not only to send her people to, but to increase the process of binding that country up to our industrial activity and our commercial enterprise. Today in Britain we are no longer regarded as merely a storehouse from which to draw raw materials, but every portion of the Empire is recognized as a great potential factor in the development of the whole Empire. You find that statesmen and business men of every walk of life and of every party persuasion have a different outlook upon the future of imperial consolidation from what they had even three years ago. (Applause.) To my mind that is one of the healthiest signs that convinced me that this British Empire is just gathering herself, after this serious struggle, together again, and she will go ahead with greater force and greater success and greater influence in the world than she has ever had. (Applause.)
You know that Great Britain has established what is called the Empire Marketing Board, and they are devoting $5,000,000 a year to assist in improving production and methods of marketing not alone in Great Britain but in any part of the Empire. Where they think it will be possible to improve conditions over the whole Empire, or any portion of it, they are prepared out of that fund to spend dollar for dollar with the local interests. Today we have a contribution,-not large it is true, but it is an evidence of interest and good will-to help in some of our investigations at Guelph, that comes directly from the British Treasury as an evidence of their keen interest in our problems, and their desire to give us help. (Applause.)
If I had the time I would like to speak about migration, but I will say that there are plenty of possible migrants in Britain who are anxious and willing to come to a new portion of the Empire. Some of them have cauliflower ears and some of them have hair lips and some of them flat feet-a few here and there. We have fellows of that kind in this country-I see them everyday-and they get along splendidly; but unless we take the position that there shall be no more hair lips than what we ourselves have produced, of course we are going to discourage migration. Let us be sensible about it. (Hear, hear.) When we brought out those thousands of harvesters and told them, "You can work at the harvest during the summer, and if you can get a job for the rest of the winter you can stay in Canada", it was not necessary to ask them to answer more than half a dozen questions which meant, in effect, "Are you sound in wind and limb, and are you willing to work? If you are, you can go." Why, then, should we require four or five sheets of family history and technical statistics for the admission of immigrants? I would like to tell you, if time permitted, what effect that has had in the Old Country. I do not intend to say it in any partisan way, because I quite believe that when these things are brought home to the Department at Ottawa, as they have been, we are going to have an improvement in that situation; but I am interested in my country, and that is why I have ventured to say these things. (Hear, hear)
Let me tell you one little incident. A chap in a little village had decided to sign up to come with his family to Canada. He had to make two or three trips to see the doctor for examination. Finally he did not go. Now, that fellow occupied a rather important position in his own sphere of life, but,- do you know, he became an object of derision; everybody pointed a finger at him, saying, "He was going to Canada, but they examined him; what was the matter with him? Why couldn't they take him? There is something wrong somewhere." That is an indication of the type of things that occur in the small communities there, just as they would happen here. There are a lot of little irritating things that could easily be removed, and I am quite sure that the Government at Ottawa, having had them brought to their notice, will see to it that they are remedied, and we will get our fair share of the magnificent type of young manhood that is waiting an opportunity to come out here and do their part in building up a home for themselves and helping us to develop this country. (Applause.)
Just one other thing. Britain has had to recover from the heaviest burden of debt, of taxation, of ruined industries, of loss of manhood, of any nation in the world. She has carried this burden uncomplainingly (Applause); has asked consideration at the hands of nobody and even insists on paying her debts to the people who would not forgive them anyway-(Laughter)-and yet in ten years what has she done? She has recovered her position to such an extent that she now has not only got a favourable balance of trade, but she has money to lend. (Hear, hear and applause.) Now, no nation in the world has ever done the like before. It is because of the quality and the spirit of the people. (Hear, hear and applause.)
Let me tell you one thing that happened while I was there this year. Ever since the war the railways were facing bankruptcy; the whole transportation system of those islands was breaking down on account of competition from busses and other causes, and through the falling off of traffic, because of depressed industry. There seemed to be no hope for the railways, but some, heads of the labour organizations were called in and given an opportunity to examine the statements of the railways, to have them audited and to discuss them with the railway heads. Do you know what happened? The head of the labour organization said, "Well, there does not seem any other way of escape except to cut down the cost of operation. If you people who are managing these railways will cut your salaries we will cut our wages." Then they went out amongst the wage earners all over the British Isles, and came back to the management of the railways with a mandate to say that every workman was prepared to take 2Y2% less wages if the management would take 2Y2% less salary. That was accomplished, and the railway situation has been saved in Great Britain. (Loud applause.) You point to me any other country in the world with a spirit of that kind among its people-people. who so truly love the flag, their constitution, their King, their whole political organization because they realize that it is the greatest that has ever been in the world-men who will make personal sacrifice at the expense of their own home comfort and pleasure to see to it that one of the fibres of national life shall not be worn out and broken, but shall be strengthened for all time to come. (Hear, hear.)
That, I say, is the reason that the Britisher is the greatest fellow in the world. He will provoke you beyond measure. (Laughter.) Time and time again you will want to knock the block off him-(Laughter)-but give him a little chance for thought, let him consider his problem carefully, and you will get justice-aye, and sound judgment-in any problem that he may undertake to solve for you. That is the reason that I love to call myself a Britisher. (Loud applause.) Coursing through the veins of all those people, our forebears, is a blood that is fortified by a wealth of tradition that gives them outlook and confidence, gives them genius that is to be found nowhere else that I know of in the wide universe. (Loud and continued applause.)
Rev. Dr. Cody expressed the thanks of the Club for the inspiring and informative address by one of the Empire's great constructive and originating statesmen.