- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 14 Oct 1926, p. 229-243
- Petersen, Charles W., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Nationalism touching all manner of current popular prejudices: personal, national, religious and racial. The intense nationalism of modern days partly an outgrowth of economic forces, and how that is so. Evidence of Canada's material progress during the past quarter century, with figures. Complaints of recent years. Our most serious handicap of measuring up to the standard of prosperity prevailing south of the line. The fact there is no reliable barometer of a nation's material progress known to modern economists, and evidence for that fact. The trend of unemployment and emigration as the only reliable surface indications available. The unique position of Canada amongst nations: our relationship and competition with our neighbours to the south. The consequences of that unique position. An analysis, with figures, of our population situation to ascertain what the drift across the line really means in terms of population leakage. The speaker's diagnosis of our lamentable inability to hold our population: we have failed to settle our lands with people who would strike roots deeply into our fertile soil. The remedy: to bring a very large proportion of that class of people to Canada, if necessary with the aid of public funds and thus inaugurate a realistic colonization policy. Consequences of failing to adopt such an heroic policy. Canada at the Cross Roads. Unbalanced production, not over-population leading to general unemployment. What such widespread unemployment means and how to go about solving it. Canada's agriculture as the largest single factor in her economic life, with figures to show that that is so. Attempting to correctly estimate the economic importance of agriculture in a country like Canada. Speculation on the possible performance of Canadian agriculture in terms of national development. A detailed review of the historical and current situation. An examination of the problem of settlement of our marginal lands. Who would be best suited to settle these lands. The development of our enormous residue of inferior lands as the key in colonization in every province in Canada. Objections to the speaker's proposal, and his response. Some practical suggestions. A word in defence of Canada's foreign population, from several viewpoints. The general question of immigration expenditure. The relationship between world populations and the availability of cheap food. A new era now dawning due to the lack of extensive empty spaces within temperate zones to supply cheap food. Falling birth rates. Predictions of a stationary, or possibly receding, future world population and what that will mean for Canada in looking for surplus manpower to develop her resources.
- Date of Original
- 14 Oct 1926
- Language of Item
- Copyright Statement
- The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
- Empire Club of CanadaEmail
Agency street/mail address
Fairmont Royal York Hotel
100 Front Street West, Floor H
Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3
- Full Text
CANADA AT THE CROSS ROADS
AN ADDRESS BY CHARLES W. PETERSEN, OF CALGARY
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
Thursday, October 14, 1926.
COL. ALEXANDER FRASER, Vice-President, introduced the Speaker.
I am pleased to have the opportunity of addressing the Empire Club-the exponent of the wider patriotism, which, while including the love of Canada, enters the broader field of love for and pride in the whole of the British Empire. My message to you may not at once strike the responding chord in your minds-all I can hope for is that on mature reflection you may be able to see things my way.
Nationalism touches all manner of current popular prejudicespersonal, national, religious and racial. It is the most significant factor in public life, and a dangerous subject to touch critically because of the deep and powerful emotions with which it is charged. The intense nationalism of modern days is partly an outgrowth of economic forces. It received its great impetus during the industrial revolution of the last century, which brought before nations the ideal of being self-contained. It may, however, easily be conceded that he who entertains the not ignoble ambition to promote his country's material welfare may justly claim for himself a place amongst the patriots, perhaps amongst the lesser patriots. At any rate, I claim this place, and will make my appeal on the basis of practical expediency rather than patriotic sentiment. I am going to say a word for the foreigner, and as we have in Canada a dual nationality we may be expected to harbour the more tolerant view on racial problems. This is the hope upon which I rest my case.
I am neither a pessimist nor a blue-ruin prophet. I cheerfully concede that Canada's material progress during the past quarter century has been tremendous. Our agricultural capital has been increased from 1 and a 3/4 billions to 7 1/2 billions; our agricultural production from 1/3 billion to 1 1/2 billions. Our capital in manufacturing has increased from 1/2 billion to 3 1/3 billions; our population by 3 millions; our developed water power from 125,000 H.P. to 4 1/2 millions H.P.; our per capita exports from $36.58 to $115; and so on all along the line. It is not easy to properly estimate the precise significance of these impressive figures. While Canada at the moment is enjoying reasonable prosperity, principally due to a fairly bountiful western harvest, the past quarter-century of amazing progress evidently has not made us all "healthy, wealthy and wise."
Our agriculture has passed through the fire test of poor crops and high operating costs during recent years, and is labouriously struggling back to normal. Industries still complain of lack of orders. The Maritime Provinces complain. Property values have not fully recovered. During this period we have frequently had our acute unemployment problem. Comparisons with the desperate straits of European countries, favourable to us, yield no comfort whatever. Inexorable fate has decreed that the danger of economic stagnation faces us unless we measure up to the standard of prosperity prevailing south of the line. This will always be our most serious handicap. In reality, these figures showing imposing increases in national wealth and production, mean little or nothing when applied to the individual lives and welfare of the average man. Invested wealth always increases at a much greater rate than population. Its most spectacular increase is frequently due to artificial fluctuations in property values of all sorts. It constitutes no sure index to national properity.
There is, in fact, no reliable barometer of a nation's material progress known to modern economists. The best evidence of this is that the Coste prize offered in France in 1903 for a compilation of the national wealth of that country has so far not been awarded. The nearest we can come to estimating the economic status of the Canadian is to recognize the fact that the prosperity of a nation depends upon the ability of the inhabitants to procure the means to satisfy the reasonable necessities of life. Census statistics help us very little to arrive at the true answer. The trend of unemployment and emigration are, in our case, the only reliable surface indications available.
The position of Canada amongst nations is unique. We have a great prosperous country adjoining us with an invisible boundary line of 3000 miles speaking the same language and with a civilization and institutions similar to our own. Consequently, unemployment in Canada is generally reflected in south bound emigration. Furthermore, in order to retain our population we, on this side of the line, must obviously offer our people the same inducements and standard of living as prevail in the United States. We come then to the conclusion that our national welfare depends on our ability to measure up to the same high standard set by our neighbors, which is the highest history records. No young nation ever faced a more difficult task.
It might be well to endeavor to analyze our population situation and to ascertain what this drift across the line really means in terms of population leakage. We started our national career in 1870 with a population of 3,372,000. The rate of net natural increase in Canada is figured by statisticians at approximately 2Y4 per cent per annum. Between 1881 and 1920 we had received through immigration an addition to our population of 4,640,000 people. There is no record available of those that entered Canada prior to 1881, but the number must have been considerable. Taking the immigration and net natural increase by ten year periods, we arrive at a figure of roundly 16 millions, which should have been the population of Canada in 1921, providing we had retained the people that came to our shores plus a normal national increase. But the census of that year showed a population of only 8,800,000 leaving an apparent deficit of 7,000,000 people on our national ledger.
This appalling condition is not a thing of the past. At the present moment there is a waiting list in the United States Consulate for Alberta alone of over 2,200 British-born residents of the province. This does not include people of Canadian birth who may enter freely and without formal permission, and the latest Washington figures throw an interesting light on that movement. During the ten months' period, July 1925 to May 1926, the total admissions from all countries into the United States under the "Quota Law" was 147,586. The movement from Canada alone was 83,903. During the month of May, Canadian admissions were 8,327, showing no diminution whatever in this outward flow which is apparently now on a basis of 100,000 per annum of native Canadians. Aside from British and foreign residents of Canada admitted under the Quota Law are the large number that enter illegally of whom no record is available. These figures speak for themselves.
We might as well look facts straight in the face. During the two last census periods, between 1901 to 1921, Canada made a total gain in population of 3,417,000. During the same period we received 3,340,000 immigrants. Freely translated this means that a volume of population approximately equal to our natural increase left the country. Canada must apparently look almost solely to her immigration to augment her population. This is a most disturbing revelation, and calculated to make intelligent people pause and consider. Incidentally, we find that instead of being confronted with one difficult problem, we have as a matter of fact, two; (1) to get the people and (2) to hold the people we get. We may presumably concede that, in order to reach a certain accretion of population within any given period, we must perforce pump in sufficient additional population to overcome the double handicaps of a falling birth rate and this very considerable leak. Or, we may possibly conclude that the population we have brought to Canada in past years has contained too great a percentage of people who scorned the laborious task of developing our agricultural lands and preferred the easier life of the town with the ready opportunity of drifting south when the fancy struck them. All of which makes it the more essential that we should now begin to focus serious thought and energy upon this very perplexing dual problem.
My diagnosis of our lamentable inability to hold our population is, that we have failed to settle our lands with people who would strike roots deeply into our fertile soil. My remedy for our economic ills is to bring a very large proportion of that class of people to Canada, if necessary with the aid of public funds and thus inaugurate a real colonization policy. If we fail to adopt such an heroic policy, we may anticipate economic stagnation for years to come. We are at this moment at the Cross Roads. What Canada, and many other countries, has suffered from during recent years and what has given 'rise to general unemployment, is not necessarily over-population, but unbalanced production.
While Canada's urban and rural populations have been unequally distributed, our aggregate working force has been, and still is, vastly below our minimum, urgent, national requirements. With untold mineral and forest wealth and millions of acres of the world's richest agricultural lands lying idle and undeveloped, and the world clamouring for food, it is paradoxical to harbour an unemployment problem.
Widespread unemployment under such conditions is prima facie evidence of arrested development and this must largely be due to bankrupt statesmanship in so far as sufficient intelligence and energy has not been focused on the solution of problems which obviously lend themselves to correction by well-known and proven methods.
Canada's agriculture looms up as the largest single factor in her economic life, with the farmers as the largest group of domestic consumers, consequently exercising a commanding influence upon the general business conditions of the country.
Forty-one per cent of our net production in the last census year was agricultural; thirty-three per cent manufacturing. Our forests, mines, fisheries, construction, etc., account for the remaining twenty-six per cent.
Our 8 billions of agricultural capital represents 36 per cent of Canada's total available wealth. Urban real estate accounts for 26 per cent, our railway plants 10 per cent; forests 5 1/2 per cent; mines 2 1/2 per cent, and manufacturing equipment 2 1/4 per cent.
Besides the millions of farm workers directly engaged in producing, there are other millions earning their living by performing work connected with supplying the implements, tools, shoes, clothing, etc., for the farmer, with the manufacture of raw material originating on the farm and the distribution and transportation of such commodities.
Who is bold enough to attempt correctly to estimate the economic importance of agriculture in a country like Canada? It is perhaps well within the mark to assert that at least 80 per cent of Canada's total population, in every walk of life, depends absolutely on the farm, directly or indirectly.
These are imposing figures and should lead thinking men to speculate on the possible performance of Canadian agriculture in terms of national development, were we in the happy position where more than a mere fringe of our agricultural area was on a producing basis.
If, for instance, we were producing on one-half, or even on one third, of our arable lands instead of only one-sixth, granting a fair occupational balance, our present economic problems would vanish over night.
The time is ripe for bringing such a situation about. We have the undeveloped natural resources, the markets are there, we only need the manpower and the capital to complete the circle. And that is purely a matter of intelligent business organization.
We must not overlook the fact that Canada's proud record rests on past performance, rendered possible by the easy exploitation of our most available natural resources, at a time when new population was coming our way, with but slight exertion on our part, and when the burden of taxation rested lightly on all classes.
We face, however, an entirely different situation today. The free homestead and high quality land in close proximity to transportation at from $3 to $5 an acre are both things of the past.
With increased land, machinery, commodity and transportation costs and curtailed credit, agricultural settlement has ceased to be a matter of mere "willing hands and stout hearts" and has graduated into the class of capitalistic enterprise.
And to add to our difficulties, latter-day immigrants possess less capital than they did in former years. The United States is about the only country from which farmers with even modest capital can be drawn. And they are not coming our way in large numbers at present.
Canada still offers the settler with capital a splendid opportunity. Excellent farms at prices vastly below those prevailing in older civilizations, are readily available. We have large areas of first-class unoccupied lands around most of our old-settled communities.
Such lands are generally well served with transportation, educational and other facilities. Their settlement would materially ease the burden of those already in occupation in various ways and could give rise to no new public liability for the extension of services.
The ownership of such lands has generally passed from the crown and is in the hands of all sorts of companies, individuals and municipalities. The area is estimated at over 18 million acres. These lands are available at very reasonable prices and on favourable terms.
We have also an enormous area of occupied and partly developed lands in the hands of domiciled farmers who would welcome an opportunity to reduce their holdings and get a part of their properties into the hands of newcomers. The incidences of local taxation and labour problems have created a tendency towards the smaller farm operated on a more intensive basis.
We need not, therefore, anticipate the slightest difficulty in meeting the requirements of new settlers from the United Kingdom, the United States and Northern Europe who could not be interested in settling upon lands remote from transportation, educational or social facilities, or upon a class of land requiring pioneering effort of the more strenuous sort.
I shall now turn my attention to what I consider the "high spot" in Canada's colonization problem namely the settlement of our marginal lands.
140 million acres is occupied in Canada. 20°0 of this is waste land. This leaves us with 112 million acres of occupied arable land. The total arable area for Canada is 358 million, indicating that we still have on hand 246 million acres of arable lands or approximately three-fifths of the total.
If we credit the people who selected the occupied one-third of our arable area with ordinary common sense, we must conclude that it contains the cream of our vast area of vacant lands.
No agricultural country on earth would, in its virgin state, contain so large a proportion of high quality land as one-third of its arable area.
We must, therefore, admit, and anyone conversant with the facts will readily support such a conclusion, that our present unalienated, arable area falls distinctly within the category of medium to inferior lands.
To obtain a true picture of our real colonization problem, we must realize that the bulk of these lands come within the term "marginal. "
They are located in areas where the rainfall normally is insufficient to produce satisfactory agricultural results, or they are heavily treed, are low lying, stony or have thin soil or exhibit other undesirable features.
Most of these lands present a problem in human labour and are marginal only until reclaimed by hard pioneering effort when they will graduate into the class of more or less productive lands. But their reclamation involves clearing, digging out of stones, drainage or similar uninviting and time-consuming labour, unproductive for the time being.
A depressing number of Canadians, Britishers and Americans have failed, at great economic loss and to the everlasting detriment of Canada, in establishing themselves permanently upon farms of that class in Western Canada.
Flivvers, " rural phones and mail delivery can play no conspicuous part in such a toilsome undertaking. It calls rather for the Spartanic life of the early backwoods settler of Old Canada, with something approaching the crude standard of living then in vogue.
Who is going to "mop up" this Herculean task for us? The greater part of this strenuous enterprise cannot be successfully accomplished by people accustomed to the high standard of living of most of the countries we are pleased to designate "preferred" in our present immigration policy.
Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and British Columbia harbour this problem in an intensified form. Previous failures in colonizing these provinces have their roots in the fact that no special notice has been taken of the special character of the lands to be settled. The bush lands and enormous dry areas of the west come within this class.
We have insisted on focussing our propaganda oil Great Britain and Northern Europe when a moment's thought should have convinced us of the futility of such an effort.
We cannot formulate intelligent immigration policies in Canada without reference to this situation. The obvious answer is a considerable influx of Central and East European peasants. No other class will successfully create permanent homes on land of that description.
Sir Clifford Sifton addressing the Canadian Club in Toronto some years ago stated that what Canada needs is; "The fellow in the sheep-skin coat with the bigbroad wife." He epitomized the whole problem in those few words.
I say without hesitation, basing my finding on observation in his native village in Europe and upon his creditable record over many years on our Western plains, that he is, from almost every point of view, an eminently desirable element in our population.
He possesses in a high degree the peculiar virtues and qualifications essential to successful pioneering, the most important of which are frugality, perseverance and unremitting industry.
There is not the least danger of any demoralizing influence to our native population from contact with him. On the contrary he possesses virtues which might profitably be imitated by other members of the community.
Let me repeat that the key in colonization in every province in Canada is the development of our enormous residue of inferior lands. Any so-called immigration policy which does not welcome with open arms this specialist in our most difficult national development problem, is simply futile.
Any such policy which actually places obstacles in the way of this useful class entering Canada, which is the present situation, is not far from being hopelessly insane.
It can only be attributed to gross ignorance and a complete misconception of the character of Canada's most urgent and pressing colonization requirement.
Anticipate the inevitable objection to my proposal, which will be framed somewhat as follows; "Shall we deliberately turn Canada into a new Hungary or Poland?" My answer is that we should redouble our efforts to bring over the greatest, possible number of people from the United Kingdom. The more, however, we increase rural settlement by peasants and others, the more easily we can absorb urban population, and our census returns show unmistakably that British Immigration preponderatingly settles in urban communities. We should also speed up our machinery for interesting settlers from northern and other "preferred" European countries. We cannot have too many of them.
I emphasize the special need of peasant immigration on three grounds; first, to ensure the permanent development of our marginal lands, which I regard as our greatest present problem.
Secondly, in the interest of greater general agricultural development.
Thirdly, to augment Canada's consuming and producing population, realizing that Great Britain and "preferred" European countries cannot furnish a volume of immigration approximating adequate requirements.
As to the extent of a peasant movement that matter must be determined by the people of Canada with all before them. My own considered judgment is that it could scarcely be too great.
I might furthermore draw attention to the fact that the social and political effect of a great movement of people into a new country with standards and language differing from the domiciled population is not very serious where such people are settled in rural areas.
Lack of urban contact will doubtless retard the process of assimilation but on the other hand the country-side exercises a vastly smaller influence on national life than the urban communities.
Peasant settlements are during the earlier stages unobtrusive to a high degree. These people do not seek to exercise any directing influence in national affairs. And it is well that they should not until ready to contribute intelligently. Canada can absorb a very great percentage of this class of agricultural people without the least danger to our social and political life.
I want to say a word in defence of Canada's foreign population. There has been a great deal of ill-formed criticism naturally intensified by war emotionalism. You people know the foreigner chiefly by his well advertised crime record in your industrial slums chiefly by people of Latin and oriental origin.
You have not seen the prosperous peasant colonies in the West, the well-tilled smiling fields and the perseverance and industry of these excellent settlers. They are true children of the soil.
The low standard of living of the European peasant class is often criticized. But are we not in imminent danger of completely misunderstanding this very elastic phrase?
I see a vastly greater menace to society in the almost universal weakness for too high a standard of living than lurks in any class living well within its means which is merely another way of describing a low standard of living.
To have a hard working frugal family characterized as a social hazard because it declines to spend more than it earns seems an entirely new point of view.
Hitherto we have endeavoured to instill precisely these virtues in the minds of our children. We have even held them up as absolutely essential to worldly success. Are we not a trifle inconsistent not to say ridiculous in this modern attitude?
The superstition prevails that the foreigner presents an uncomfortable problem owing to his supposed criminal proclivities. Taking the census of 1921 and our penitentiary population for the same year we find that our British and French population of 7,322,000 furnished 2,157 prisoners or 3.40 per 1,000 while our foreign population of 1,467,000 supplied 483 inmates or only 3.03 per 1,000.
This hardly bears out such a sweeping contention. But the simple, hard working and law abiding east European peasant should not be classed indiscriminately with the large south European population of our industrial slums district where most of the serious crimes occur.
At home he seldom comes in conflict with the authorities and no particular reason exists why he should change his habits on coming to Canada.
The objection of illiteracy is often urged against the foreign immigrant. Educational statistics, compiled from our latest census returns, apparently tell a very different tale. Here are some figures bearing on the percentage of illiteracy in Canada
Ages Canadian foreign
10 to 20 years 2.71 % 3.45 %
21 and over7.28 % 4.45 %
Total average 5.77 % 3.79 %
The general percentage of illiteracy amongst the population of Nova Scotia over school age is 5.11, New Brunswick 7.61 and Quebec 6.20. These provinces have a little over 3 per cent of foreign population. Saskatchewan, with 25 per cent of foreign population, has only 5.92 per cent of illiteracy. How, in the face of these figures, can any such objection against the foreign immigrant be sustained?
From a standpoint of morality also it cannot be shown that the foreigner in our midst presents a special problem. Illegitimacy in Canada is very low compared with other countries and the domiciled foreigner apparently conforms to the same high standard.
Saskatchewan has the largest foreign born female population of any province in Canada. For the last three year period available, Saskatchewan's percentage of illegitimate to total birth was 1.2; Alberta, with the largest percentage of foreign females to total population 1.9 per cent. The percentage in Nova Scotia was 3.5 Ontario 2.2, Prince Edward Island, with scarcely any foreign population, 2.3 per cent, while Canada as a whole shows a shade below 2 per cent of illegitimacy.
Only one conclusion can be drawn from these figures, namely, that our foreign born population as a whole has an excellent moral standing, even far above the comparatively splendid record of our British born population, which is not so greatly to be wondered at in view of the strong, religious character of most of our foreign settlements. Regarding the general question of immigration expenditure, if we accept Prof. Irving Fisher's estimate of average value to the state at $3,000 for each productive citizen, we may logically conclude that it would apparently be sound business to expend up to the amount upon the maintenance, education and training of the native-born child until it reaches the productive age. Or, in order to compensate for a falling birth rate, or to speed up settlement, upon propaganda and other efforts to transplant in Canada any acceptable person of productive age from another country.
Record shows that since 1870 we have brought somewhat over 4Y2 million people to Canada at a direct cost to the government of 37 million dollars.
Estimating the expenditure of the railways, province and other active agencies at an additional 45 million dollars, the aggregate cost would be 82 million dollars, or an average cost per head of less than $20.
Has Canada ever spent money more advantageously? Is it conceivable that any national investment could possibly yield greater returns?
But we have yet to consider what is perhaps the most ominous and disturbing cloud on the horizon of immigration activities. It is a universal condition which, however, may well be viewed with considerable apprehension.
History and statistics show that it took the world the better part of half a million years to reach a population of 750 millions up to the year 1800. Food had normally been scarce and this near starvation condition had acted as a powerful brake on natural increase according to well known economic laws.
Came the golden age of invention, followed by rapid and cheap transportation on sea and land, which in turn led to the opening up, in temperate zones overseas, of vast continents of virgin lands, constituting huge reservoirs. This coupled, with the increased mechanization of agriculture, relieved the pressure by providing cheap and abundant food, which automatically begot the most spectacular increase in world population that history records and probably ever will record. Within one brief century, during the latter part of which the world wallowed in food at bargain prices, population actually doubled reaching 1,500 millions in the year 1900.
With European population at the very peak, Canada naturally garnered her human harvest comparatively easily.
Our opportunity to obtain additional population is, however, drawing to a close rapidly because a new era is now dawning inasmuch as there are no more extensive, empty spaces within temperate zones.
The day of cheap food is definitely past, and presently the earth will only be made to yield more abundantly through the expensive and labourious process of intensive cultivation.
Prof. East of Harvard, after painstaking investigation, tells us that if the same fantastic birthrate should by any chance continue, the world would be on the verge of actual starvation by 1960.
But economic laws are at work and we need entertain no apprehension. Vital statistics demonstrate clearly that the general birth rate is falling rapidly everywhere. Great Britain now has the lowest birth rate of any nation even lower than that of France.
Economists freely predict a stationary, or possibly receding, future world population. Beyond all shadow of doubt, in 15 or 20 years Canada will look overseas in vain for surplus man-power to develop her resources.
So we are essentially working against time in our present leisurely colonization effort. With the passing of each year the problem will be irrevocably intensified.
For a few years yet European countries may remain partly overpopulated with adults, and our chances to secure more people are dwindling steadily day by day.
It requires no prophetic foresight to conclude that the time limit within which Canada may solve her population problem in terms of millions of new citizens is coming to an end.
DR. NOGGIN voiced the thanks of the Club to the Speaker.