TRADE PREPARATION FOR COMING PEACE
AN ADDRESS BY THE RIGHT HONOURABLE SIR GEORGE E. FOSTER, M.P.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto November 7, 1916
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,--I am to speak to you today for a little time on the situation and conditions which will confront us, or may confront us, when war ceases and when peace again commences to bless the world. That task is lightened a great deal in coming before an audience like this, because the audience is composed of men who know much more about these things than I do. I am not here to dictate, not here particularly to teach, and in no sense am I here to dogmatize. I am here, in a sketchy and altogether inadequate way, to bring to the minds of the business people of this city, through these their representatives, some thoughts in relation to conditions which will probably face us when the war ceases. I suppose all of us will agree that production and distribution-and taking in connection with the latter, and in fact with both, the considerations of finance and transport-have been profoundly affected all the world over by this tremendous war. You will not find many who will raise a dissentient voice to that statement of the case. But whilst all agree in that, there are yet some things that it appears to some of us have not been done, and that might very well be commenced to be done, even in the busy times of war. There are many people who will agree in a moment that we are passing through a phase of world-wide change in Canada, and that we ourselves are being and will be vitally affected by the results of the war. When, however, one comes to talk it out with people, he meets two or three types, and is fortunate if he meets no more; but I will only mention two or three.
He will meet one type of man and mind who will say to him, "You are a mixer and a muddler; you are confusing us; there is only one thing now-a-days upon which we should centre our minds and our efforts, that is, how to prosecute the war; don't draw away people's minds from that one certain set purpose; finish war first and then we will sit down and talk about what we will do after the war." The answer that I give to that type of thought is this. I recall a memory common to many of you, that was the kind of talk, reversed, which was prevalent in Great Britain and in the Empire before the war broke out. There were people of wide vision and experience who believed that a menace was above us or approaching us, or imminent, and was filled with peril; but when they attempted to press that view upon their fellow-men they were met with that type of mind and the answer was given to them, "There is no war on; we are engaged in the arts and works of peace; it is time enough to see what we will do about the war when war comes." And because of that, war fell upon the British Empire and found the British Empire with all the flails of destruction smiting its devoted head, raining its blows down upon it, absolutely unprepared so far as a land army and equipment was concerned to defend the Empire or to play its part in unison with the nations who made head against this great menace.
Now, I say it is quite possible that unless we are up and doing, thinking and acting, that if we go upon the idea--" Attend to the war now; do what is necessary to be done in times of peace after the war is ended "that we will find ourselves in the gulf of unpreparedness, and that we will pay a penalty for that unpreparedness in the matter of business and trade, as we have undoubtedly paid the awful penalty in the war. If the British Empire had been prepared for war, for the complete defence of such a trust, such a tremendous trust as was confided to her care; if she had been as well prepared at the commencement of the war as she is at this present day, this war would have been over and done months and months and months ago; streams of blood and oceans of expense would have been avoided and saved to the Empire and to its constituent countries. So I do not take much stock in the objection, that we are to leave these things until war is ended and only then sit down and counsel about them.
There is another type of man, and when you talk with him he says, " Well, I am very busy; business was never better; my factories are crowded; I have more orders than I can fill; my profits are good and my bank book is healthy; I am making money; I am -busily engaged; I am working on both peace and war work, and I have no time now to break away from this business and think or plan for what is to happen when the war is over." Well, that is an objection which is utilitarian,--I might even say selfish; I do not think it-is an objection which is absolutely the most broadminded and the most patriotic. Founded on that, surely, must be this deduction-that if a man, a corporation, a factory, has plenty of business, and it is going well with it, that it is not necessary for it to look forward, to a time in the future, when an absolute and certain change must take place. Maybe it is open to the inference that the man who so talks has had in mind that he will make his pile before peace occurs, and others can look after the confusion and wreckage which will come when the war is over. In either case I do not believe the objection is a valid and good one.
Well, there is another, not altogether unique type of mind. He is the happy-go-lucky man. He simply tells you that you are bothering a great deal about what is of no importance and what does not matter. He says, " Why, there never was so much money in Canada as there is at the present time; there never was more employment than there is today; there never were better bank accounts; there never was greater prosperity; everything is going on; the war has the effect of making business, and of causing wealth to be accumulated; everything will take care of itself when the war is over, and we will glide out into the ways of peace without knowing that we have ever been through the war. It will be as though some person in command of a great big brigade would, when the war ceases, say to the world, 'War is over; as you were!' and the whole world of workers now employed on all those various activities will march out into the fields of peaceful occupations and be exactly as they were before." Now, sir, I do not believe that such is the case, and I do not think it is worth while stopping to consume much time to rebut the argument advanced by men of that kind.
I mention those three; there are others. But I want to bring before those three types of mind, if there are any that are representative, of them in this audience, and before the others in this audience, some patent facts, some outstanding considerations which certainly cause us to think and to consider; and it is to bring these to your pure minds by way of remembrance-not that you have not thought of them yourselves--that I take the liberty of spending a few moments upon them.
By the time this war is over, whether it be in 1917 or 1918 or 1919--and no man living can tell in which year it will be 500,000 adult men will have been abstracted from the fields, the forests, the mines, the farms of this country; taken away from previous beneficent productive work and drafted into the great phalanx which day and night, month after month, year after year, are trying to destroy as much of the accumulated wealth of the world as they can, and to destroy as many units of humanity as they possibly can. Do you think that 500,000 adult men can be taken out of the productive industries of Canada and leave no after effects? Put that down on your note-book.
But put another thing along side of it. War at the front has to be sustained by war service behind the front, and for every soldier that fights in the trenches and at the front it is calculated that the whole time of one or two persons must be given to provide the equipments, the supplies, the services which are necessary to make the front line effective in carrying on the war. Then put as a second point on your note-book the fact that at least 500,000 men and women are abstracted or will be abstracted from the beneficent productive work of Canada in making supplies, equipments, doing subsidiary services of a thousand different kinds, all to aid the processes of destruction and demolition which are being carried on by the advanced 500,000 men. Do you think it is possible to abstract, in addition to the first, this other force of 500,000 people, and yet there shall be no after-consequences, no effects? But you have not the whole account yet.
Put down on your note-book the tremendous daily expenditures for war; the colossal debts that are being accumulated; the increased taxation which is necessary in order to keep up this burden; and you will tot up a sum of money so vast that you will be unable to adequately understand exactly what it means. But it is a burden which is rolled in upon us as one of the consequences of the war, which is laid upon our shoulders, and which will bear heavily upon your shoulders for your lives and for the lives of your sons, if it does not go farther even than that.
But that is not all. Put down on your note-book as well another item-the trail of war, the consequences of war outside of those financial and unit abstractions that I have spoken of, in the men who will never come back, in the men who will come back, but different from what they were when they went over; in the men who -will come back, who will be our proud burden -and we will not think of them as burdens; lovingly we will care for them-Government, municipality, associations, home, the individual; but none the less they will be a drag and an abstraction, a drag upon the prosperity of the future, an abstraction from the work of the world, and the value of what might have been their contribution if they had never gone to the war.
And then you can let your imagination go just a little further as to what it means for this Dominion of Canada to have had these, the virile men, the strong men, the men of fibre physically, the men of fibre mentally, the men of big souls and of large visions and of strong feelings, and sensitiveness to the obligations of duty and right, to those ideals which were ours, pass out from us in these days, turning their backs upon the West and facing the East till they came to the base line and the trench and met destiny face to face. There are factors which are being abstracted from the fertile soil of this country which it will take generations to replace, the loss of which we cannot but deplore, and the loss of which it will take long to make up.
Now, do you think that all these things can take place and that something is not doing, working out of our sight partly, in our sight as well-working, working in this country of ours, in every branch of its life and its enterprise? Is there not something in all that which makes it necessary for us, if we will face our duties, to spare a little from our busy work, to let our thoughts have some play when activities are not too strong and to face the conditions and the situations as they appear to us-face them with thought, face them afterwards with plans as to meeting the conditions when they come? Is it best for us or not, to wait till these conditions are upon us? Or is it best for us to anticipate them as much as we can, and prepare for them as best we may?
Now, suppose that tomorrow the bells of peace ring and war is declared off; there are some things that we know will take place. One thing that will take place is this. At that very red-hot moment the doors of your munition factories will shut, the wheels of your munition industries will cease to go round, the busy cogs will no longer work, you will no longer have governments coming to you and stuffing both pockets full of orders and saying to you, " Get busy and fill these." You will not then have that source for employment. In all that aggregation of capital and enterprise and industry and machinery and equipment there will be a sudden pause. The chains with their million links will clank and move more slowly, and the war machine--wonderful, tremendous, pervasive as it is-will stop dead in so far as nine-tenths of those activities are concerned.
But there will be another thing. While you have been furnishing your factory for munitions of war, getting your help, drilling them to the work, filling the orders which crowd in upon you, for which payment is prompt and quick and certain--while all that is going on, you, or others like you, have been gradually growing out of your old-time peace customers. You have not been able to attend to your old customers. They have, gone elsewhere; the old peace custom in the two or three years will have scattered and gone, and largely will have been lost. Then when the war orders are no more, you have to go out and hustle after orders. You will not find people coming in, stuffing your pockets full of orders, and telling you to hustle; it will be you that will have to do the hustling then-hustle for the old customers that you have not known for two or three years, for.the old custom that you have not enjoyed for a year or two years or more.
All that I want to do is to bring before you as vividly as I possibly can that that is a change that is absolutely certain. Many things we do not know, others we cart reasonably guess, but these things I have been speaking about are absolutely certain.
Now, what is it best to do? To wait till that time comes, and then in the confusion and in the maze of worrying, disappointed, dislocated activities which will busy us at that time to sit down and in that guise and under those circumstances try and work out what we shall do for the future?
Now, let me in all sincerity, in all kindliness, but in all truthfulness say that there is not a great progressive country that I know of that is so sound asleep as Canada is today in this very particular. I want you to take that in, because I believe it is absolutely true. There is no doctrine, spiritual or otherwise, that I would agree to with a greater conviction of my being right than to this doctrine which I have just enunciated. I believe it is absolutely true. Now for proof. Go over to England. Some of you have been there, and I appeal to you that have been there. While the heart of England, out to its rim is burdened and busy with preparations for war and the making of munitions, there is a wealth of activity-mental, scientific, business-like-which is devoting hour after hour, day after day, night and day, week after week, month after month, looking into those very problems which I have been trying to outline for you today, and seeking and delving and examining and planning and working with capital, with business enterprise and business ability, to plan for the things which must be engaged in when peace comes, and not to be found napping.
The world has learned this lesson from the war--those engaged in the war most particularly--that old business crusts, like old social crusts, like old class crusts, have been pretty well shot to pieces during these two and a half years of war. They will never be mended. Not only the class distinctions will have been rent in twain from top to bottom, to be succeeded by better; but the crusts of business custom and wont hallowed by centuries have been rent from centre to circumference and will never be mended and be as they were of old. The war has taught the Empire that mobilization, standardization, organization and co-operation--four big words they are, but I don't charge you anything for the size of them--that those four things idealized, incarnated in practice, are the things that are winning this war. Application of those methods is what is winning the war, and the lesson will be thoroughly learned; it must be learned after the war if not before the war is over, that these same things must be applied in the world of business. So in Great Britain they are doing that, and so they are doing it in the United States. Read their scientific journals, read their trade journals, read the results and reports of their great conventions. The United States is alive from the borders of the south to the borders of Canada, looking to the future, making preparations--scientific, financial, including the enterprise and the application of business ability, making preparations for what shall succeed the war. France is doing the same on a scientific and uniform basis; so is Russia; so is Italy, in lesser degree, but still doing it; all the countries are doing it; so is Japan. What is Canada doing? She may be thinking a great deal. She may be doing something, but to my eye there is not much that can be scanned upon the surface as yet. How long shall we go on in that way?
When the war is over and peace comes and the world of business sets itself to work, competition will be on a basis different from ever before. Tom and John and Harry with small capitals and little businesses will have no chance in the world to go into Russia and do big business. It must be done on a different plane. Combination must come in; cooperation must come in; mobilization of forces must come in. Suspicion, small business and petty jealousies must be swept out, and men must be willing to give of the best that is in them to their neighbour in the same trade and in other trades in order that we may get at the best national results. Is there any doubt in the world about this? I do not think, there is. What are we doing? What are we going to do? For Canada is a country of brain and nerve and business ability, of resource and adaptability. It is going to secure its place in the world in the future as it has in the past. It is going to play its part, but we have got to do something that we have not yet done if we are to give ourselves a fair chance to play the part.
See here; do you know the pathetic thing about the war in its earlier period was the part played by the Russian people on the Eastern war front. Anti-German to the core, whatever German influence may have penetrated the courts and high circles of Russian society, of finance and of business, the Russian heart was not swayed or touched or corrupted by the Hun. It was this that made the Russian soldier a unit from Vladivostock to the Carpathians, a unit in this war behind their Czar to defend their country and to fend off the Hun. There you see a people of simple spiritual ideals, a plain people, with loyal purpose and deep mystic devotion to Tzar and country in their heart. You see them fighting with their bare fists against German equipments-iron, steel, flame, poison, everything concentrated upon them. Was it not pathetic that they went into that fight with their bare fists so to speak, and fought and died by hundreds of thousands without giving way, and for lack of preparation they perished? Do you want to be in that way in a business point of view? You have pluck; you have heart; you have brain; but if you have not the munitions of preparedness when you go out into this great peace competition after the war is over, you will find yourselves up against better munitioned, better equipped, better nationalized and better mobilized businesses than you yourselves have-and it will take you years, and maybe a generation, to overcome the initial handicap. Why not commence to overcome it now? Why not get down to thinking and planning and action in order to put yourselves right in Canada with reference to this future?
Now I have worked myself into a heat, and you yourselves also possibly, and my time is about done, but I am not one-third over. Don't be afraid I am not going to give you the other two-thirds now. I cannot go on any longer, it is two o'clock, and this array of business men must be let loose for their business, whatever it is. One word or two in conclusion. I think we have learned the lesson taught by the excesses of the land boom a few years ago. I think some of us have learned it-; but sure as fate the moment the war is over up will jump your parasites and your unnecessary middlemen and your armies of speculators and they will want to do the old thing over in the same old way. What we have to do is to get away from the false idea that you can make money by swapping jack-knives at a quarter of a dollar advance for each swap. Why, miles and miles from Victoria, in the dense forest, there is staked out today many and many a succession of town lots, land which should have been cultivated by the agriculturist, inflated by speculation until it comes to take such a fictitious value that no man can settle on it and cultivate it with profit; he would not have a ghost of a chance for his life.
The only way we will ever make money in Canada is to get down to the basic principle that wealth is made by production and development, and by no other. As I travelled over this great country of ours with my companions in the Dominion Royal Commission--Old Countrymen, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans-it was one of the constant amazements from first to last in the minds of those men as to the interminable resources, the grand scale on which Canada was projected in every way, and the almost unimaginable resources that she has. That is our dower; that is our wealth in perspective; and the only way we can make good as a country is to go to the work of production; go to it with knowledge; go to it with high purpose; go to it with scientific training; go to it with method and with organization and with mobilization; go to it with purpose and work out on that line,--and on that line we shall make of Canada a country which will be second to none other in this wide world. Now, that is my conscientious conviction. It may be a big word to say that Canada has within it possibilities -greater than even the United States, but I am quite convinced that she has as great possibilities. It may be a great deal to say that Canada will some time outstrip the wealth of the old nations; but time is long, and the world has its courses to run through, and in the future, those who live to see it will see Canada one of the most developed and mightiest and richest and most prosperous countries in the world; but we will only get to it through the portal of development and of production.
One last word, and that is this: Is not the war making some of us over? Many of us, I hope. Lately I have had a kind of a depressing feeling that the clarity andsoulfulness of the early period of the war was being somewhat blurred by out present business prosperity and full employment, and that our ambitions-were now driving us out of these feelings-that the spirituality of the early part of this awful war is beginning to fade from our minds and our hearts. Let us guard ourselves against such apostasy. The condition of our Canadian people and of the British people will be a sad one indeed if they come out of this war blurred with the materiality of business and trade success. It is not going to so turn out, only we must guard ourselves on that side. But is not this war making us all over a good deal? Undoubtedly, through and through. In Great Britain notably, in France more notably still, in Canada to a less degree but yet to a large extent. Are we not closer, more nearly face to face with the eternal verities of life than ever before? Do we not feel that there is more in this world than to cultivate acres and get bank balances and have our pleasures and our comforts there-from? After all, is it not growing upon us that we are here to use these things in moderation and as stepping-stones to a better manhood and a better womanhood, with greater spiritual force, greater sacrifice and greater generosity of distribution. I think that is the lesson that is being taught us, and I believe that in this way we shall snatch from this war something of good out of the interminable ill. Apply that to your business. Don't be so absorbed in business as not to feel that in it all you are but a trustee of the good gifts of Providence, to be used by you in generous measure, but to be used mostly for the good and uplift of human kind.
Sir Mortimer Clark moved the vote of thanks, and Prof. McLennan, of Toronto University, seconded.