CANADA'S RURAL PROBLEM
AN ADDRESS BY W. G. GOOD, ESQ., B.A.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto November 30, 1916
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,--My purpose today is to present to you, from the standpoint of our common humanity and our common Canadian citizenship, some facts relative to the condition of Canadian agriculture as it has existed in the last 15 or 20 years and as it exists today; and to draw your attention to some of the important things which we should take to heart very seriously in this connection. I will begin by reading a statement by Dr. J. W. Robertson, whom you possibly know by reputation if in no other way. In one of the reports of the Commission on Conservation he says
"Agriculture is not only an occupation which some individuals follow for profit; it is a great national interest, determining in a dominant way the fortunes of this nation and the opportunities and the character of the population. So, while the improving of Canadian agriculture primarily concerns the farmer and his family, it affects the status of Canada, its outlook and its destiny."
Gentlemen, I think I may say without fear of successful contradiction that, of all the industries which contribute to man's welfare, agriculture is the most important, and this is true despite the fact that other industries, or shall we say vocations, may contribute more directly to the welfare of man's higher nature. It is true not only because agriculture is the largest, most important and most fundamental of our primary industries, but also because the country, which is closely identified with agriculture, supplies the men and women who lead in all the other industries and vocations. I think this notable fact should attract our attention more than it does: leadership comes from the country; city life in a few generations is extinguished. All life, whether country or city, comes ultimately more or less directly from those connected with Old Mother Earth. The country is the seed-bed of the whole population, and those who are concerned with the quality of the seed which they sow, should remember that as the quality is in our country district so will the nation be in the years to come.
Now, this notable fact is not accidental; there are reasons for it, and though time does not permit full discussion I would like to mention some reasons why agriculture occupies this unique position.
Firstly, agriculture-and I will include the minor industries of lumbering and fishing-has practically a monopoly of fresh air and sunshine. Moreover, the farm affords the very best opportunity for an abundant supply of good food; these three things are of supreme importance in the life of the growing generation.
Secondly, agriculture as an industry may be called domestic, and is in this respect very sharply contrasted with the various city industries. On the farm the whole family cooperates in carrying on the farm work, and those here who have been born and brought up in the country will understand what that means; will appreciate the manifold opportunities there are for little children to co-operate with their parents in carrying on the farm work, and by so doing to learn how to do things and how to think, which are very important.
Thirdly, agriculture is seasonal. There is a very close connection between the farmer's work and the weather. The farmer must work with nature, for if he attempts to work against nature his work comes to naught; hence, his farm work is very varied and calls for a very unusual degree of adaptability, initiative and resourcefulness. These things are developed by farm work, and in this, too, farming contrasts very sharply with a great many city industries in which the work is largely routine, at least for the majority of those concerned.
Fourthly, country life is quiet, while city life has many disturbing distractions and interrruptions; hence, country life encourages continuity of thought and develops strength of character. Man needs, for his highest welfare, to get away to the mountain-top, so to speak, and there commune with his Maker; and in the country one has greater opportunities for that sort of thing than in the city.
In this connection I would like to read a short extract from one of Wordsworth's poems, written at the time of the tremendous upheaval of the French Revolution. It is very interesting, while reading this, to bear in mind Wordsworth's own experience at that time. He had been more or less disillusioned after he came back from France and saw the results of the Revolution. Note in the following the influences that gave him strength and solace
Once again I see
These hedgerows, hardly hedgerows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,
Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
Sent up in silence, from among the trees;
These beauteous forms
Through along absence have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye
But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration: feelings, too,
Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man's life,
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love. No less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime: That blessed mood
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened; that serene and blessed mood
In which the affections gently lead us on,
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame,
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul
while with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
we see the life of things.
It is very significant that poetry finds its inspiration chiefly in the country; and I have noticed that every art gallery I have visited shows the deep and abiding interest which the human heart takes in rural and domestic life. I was very much impressed with this a few years ago in one of the galleries in Montreal.
Finally, it seems to me that the continuance of democracy is dependent very largely upon agriculture. The perpetuation of a sturdy and independent yeomanry is one of the best guarantees we have for the perpetuation of democracy; and my faith is that democracy is the only system of government that is destined to last, the only system which contains within itself the seeds of continuity and life. From that point of view we should regard the maintenance of an independent and intelligent class in the rural districts as of vital importance to any country.
Now, in Canada there is still another reason why agriculture should be and is of paramount importance; and that is the close connection between the condition of agriculture and our financial condition as a nation. In the 30 years prior to the outbreak of the war the bonded debt of our railways increased, roughly speaking, by $1,250,000,000; the Federal debt increased by $300,000,000; the per capita expenditure through the Federal Government more than doubled; debenture and floating debts of municipalities trebled or quadrupled. All things totalled, we were labouring under a debt of some $4,000,000,000, which figures out at about $2,000 per family. To safely carry this load, and pay the interest and the principal, we should have had our primary industries rapidly expanding. But this was not the case. I do not want to indulge in any criticism of public policy, which you' might think extravagant: I would rather remind you of some significant remarks made by Sir George Paish when he was here about three years ago, in which there is very stinging, though somewhat veiled, criticism of the policy that we had been following in Canada for a great many years.
"It is evident that the railway machinery created to take care of the production of the country is sufficient to deal with at least twice, if not three times, the existing output; and it is obvious that the burden of interest upon the immense amount of capital supplied will be a heavy one until the productive power of the country is greatly increased. I am convinced that every possible effort will be made by all concerned-the Canadian Government, the Provincial Governments, the municipalities, the great railway companies, bankers, traders, and others, as well as by British investors, to increase rapidly the agricultural and mineral output of the country, upon which the welfare of the Canadian people, both individually and collectively, absolutely depends; and the effect of their concerted effort will be so great that the country will carry with safety a burden of interest which might otherwise overtax its strength. It is, however, of the greatest possible importance that the work of directly increasing the productive power of the country by placing a larger proportion of the population upon the land and in the mines should be carried out with the least possible delay."
I might say something very strong, very cutting, regarding the policy that has guided Canada during the last 5 years, but without indulging in any extravagant language I can at least make use of the terms which Sir Thomas Shaughnessy used when he said that our railway policy had been wild and stupid. I do not mean to say that those responsible for initiating and carrying out that policy were wild and stupid; but at all events the results of their cogitations were of that character. It has seemed to me for a great many years that the policy that we have been following in stimulating our secondary industries at the expense of our primary industries is very much like the policy of the farmer who should mortgage his farm and neglect all his crops in order to build a magnificent barn, and then find when he had done so that he was mortgaged up to the hilt, as we say, and had no crop to fill his barn. In my judgment, and in the judgment of a good many keen observers, we had been following a mistaken policy-stimulating our secondary industries, and indulging in all kinds of so-called constructive work, without seeing that there was a parallel and very necessary corresponding development of our primary industries.
Then the war came, and what was its effect? One of the most immediate was the beginning of the heaping up of a tremendous debt, which is not by any means yet at an end. Interest and principal will have to be paid sometime, unless we repudiate it. In the second place, enlistment very very seriously reduced the available workers for the normal industries of this country. It has taken away, directly and indirectly, one-third of our man-power--a very serious thing, and something we ought to try to make good in every possible way. In 1915 we had fairly good crops, thanks to the weather and Providence, and not to the " P. and P" campaign. But 1916 has been one of the worst years that we have ever experienced, in spite of all we could do. The climate was very adverse in almost all parts of the country, and hindered the production of practically all kinds of crops; I could give you details that would be rather startling if I had time. In addition, farmers generally have been short of help -far shorter of help than they were a little while ago, and they have been working with half the necessary help for 15 or 20 years. Now, if the situation was serious at the outbreak of the war, it is doubly and trebly serious at the present time from the standpoint of the relationship between agriculture and our national financial safety.
Gentlemen, if you will pardon the statement, there is a good deal of ignorance existing in our cities regarding rural conditions. I am reminded of a story I read a good many years ago of a little boy who read somewhere that if half a ton of steel was manufactured into watch springs it would be worth I don't know how many thousands of dollars. The boy thought that was a great thing, and by hook or crook he managed to get sufficient money to purchase half a ton of steel in the form of an ingot, and this was carted up to the door of his father's house. The sequel I leave you to imagine. Now, just remember that story when you come to criticize the farmers and the farmers' methods. There is much in the game that the outsider does not and cannot see.
Personal remarks are somewhat out of place, but if I am supposed to speak to you with some degree of authority I ought to give grounds for being able to do so, and therefore I must transgress the demands of good taste in this matter. Pardon me for so doing. I lived in the city of Toronto for the best part of four or five years, and therefore I know something of city life. I was born and brought up on the farm that I now work, and I have been farming-actually farming, doing the work myself-for about 14 years. I spent nearly two years at the Agricultural College in Guelph, in the Department of Chemistry. I have had several trips in various parts of the Province in connection with farmers' organizations. I spent one summer in the Canadian West, and the best part of a month amongst the French Canadians, actually going over their farms. I think, therefore, that if I have any powers of observation and reasoning, my experience should enable me to tell you of conditions as they actually exist, with some little degree of authority.
Now, I want to tell you that a very serious rural problem faces us. The rural districts are not mainly responsible for it; I am not going to tell you today what or who is responsible--that is another story--but I want to tell you what the problem is. One of the aspects of this problem is the curtailment of production in practically every line, and this is going to become far worse in the immediate future. I have had to curtail in a great many respects, and I shall have to curtail further yet. I know from actual experience and observation that the pressure which is being brought to bear on our farmers at the present time is going to result in a further serious curtailment of production. A second aspect of perhaps greater importance is that there has been such depletion in our rural districts that the social life of the people there has suffered very much, and is very seriously menaced. I have no time to go into details, but I would refer you to a book written about three years ago by Rev. John McDougall, of Spencerville, in Eastern Ontario, entitled "Rural Life in Canada." There you will find the matter gone into with very considerable detail in its various aspects, as to how the rural depopulation which has been so marked in Canada has affected life in the rural districts.
I might mention some things just by way of suggestion. A great deal of land that was cultivated and producing field crops in Ontario 20 or 30 years ago is now turned into cattle ranges. Weeds are on the increase. A great deal of land is useless for lack of drainage. Timber lies rotting and wasting all over the country for lack of help to cut it up into fuel. Live stock is on the decrease, and bound to become more so. Now, nearly all of this results from the lack of labour, which it is practically impossible to get; and, let me say here, that there are men who can get $3 or $4 a day almost anywhere in other industries who would not earn 50 cents a day in farming. We cannot pay the wages that other industries are paying, and have not been able to do so for years.
As examples I will tell you of three different farms in my own country which I know intimately. Thirty years ago one farm of 300 acres had three houses, three families, a lot of fine stock, was productive, and furnished homes for upwards of 15 people. It was the centre of social and child life and of much that was interesting and desirable. That was in my boyhood. I know the farm very well, because I spent many happy days there in my childhood. At the present time one of the houses has gone, and the others are in bad repair. The farm is in the hands of a ne'er-do-well tenant. It is producing practically nothing. It is very difficult to get the rent. Another farm with which I am very well acquainted had 25 years ago two houses -the owner's house and the house for a married man; it had two large silos, a large herd of cows, and was the centre of flourishing industry. At the present time that farm is in the hands of a foreigner. Three years ago it was abandoned for cattle pasture, nova soul living on it. Another farm now occupied by a schoolmate of mine, thirty years ago had the grandfather of the present owner, two sons-one married and one single-a married man, a single man by the year, and extra help in the summer time in all five or six men. At the present time that farm is getting on with the owner and one man, and it is producing about one-half or perhaps one0third of what it did 30 years ago. These are perhaps extreme cases: they may not be justly representative. I have chosen them, however, because they are extreme. Nevertheless, they show the drift. They show how things are going, show what we are up against. Something has got to be done.
Now, what is the reason for this? The reason is not that farmers are unduly hard upon their children; it is not because the cities possess supreme attractions for the young; it is not because of this and that and the other of a hundred influences which we admit may exist: these are not the reason why agriculture is suffering, though they are parts of the reason. The whole reason can be included in the general statement that labour and capital do not get as great rewards in agriculture as in other occupations. The rewards of which I speak are not all of a material or financial agriculture as in other occupations. The rewards of character. They may be quite otherwise; but lumping them altogether they are roughly estimated by men, and it is idle for us to dispute these estimates. We may say they have false tastes, we may say this, that and the other thing; we may assign a hundred different reasons for the facts that exist; but we cannot dispute the general consensus of opinion regarding the satisfactions or the rewards of one industry as against the other; the drift of labour and capital indicates absolutely the relative rewards of one kind and another which the individual gets in the various industries, and if labour and capital have been drifting away from agriculture for 30 or 40 years, the satisfactions are not to be got.
As far as the financial rewards of agriculture are concerned, I must refer you to a great many agricultural surveys that have been made in the United States under the various agricultural departments of the State colleges. Unfortunately we have not done any of this work in Canada. In this respect we are very backward and out of date, because we have no accurate knowledge from the statistical point of view of the economic condition of farmers as compared with those engaged in other industries. Last spring I did some figuring based on the census returns, with a view to compare the returns from manufacturing and farming. You can find the details of the argument, with the figures and authorities, in the" Grain Growers' Guide of October 11th, 1916. I want now to give you merely the balance sheet as I figured it out for the average of the five years, 1910-1914
MANUFACTURING AND FARMING PROFITS.
A BALANCE SHEET SHOWING WHY PEOPLE LEAVE THE FARMS
Capital investment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $1,500,000,000
Value of products (annual) . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1,400,000,000
Cost of labour, etc $1,000,000,000
5 per cent. on investment . 75,000,000
I per cent. municipal tax. . 15,000,000
5 per cent depreciation . . 50,000,000
Total costs 1,140,000,000
Surplus profit $ 260,000,000
Capital investment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $5,000,000,000
Value of products (annual) . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1,000,000,000
Cost of labour . . . . . . . . . . . $760,000,000
5 per cent. on investment . 250,000,000
I per cent. municipal tax. . 50,000,000
5 per cent. depreciation . . . 50,000,000
Total costs 1,110,000,000
Deficit $ 110,000,000
Now, how is the deficit made up? Simply by the farmer and his family taking less wages than are paid in the other industries-and I have only allowed them the average wages which those in the manufacturing industries get. The results were rather startling to me, as showing the handicap under which agriculture has been labouring financially. In addition to that, there are the other advantages of city life which as yet farm life does not possess. All considered, I doubt whether at the present time the more elusive and subtle advantages of life in the country are sufficient to out-weigh the very serious economic disadvantages under which agriculture is labouring. I am not permitted to tell you what causes this discrimination, because my time is up; I could tell you, because it is very clear in my own mind, but, as I said before, that is another story into which I cannot go now. I am however, satisfied that the economic handicap under which agriculture has been labouring for the last 30 years is chiefly responsible for its condition.
Now, to put the whole matter in a few words we may say that the present condition of agriculture is a menace to our whole national safety and our whole national character. Our future destiny and national character depend on the quality of life that we can maintain in our rural districts. That life has not been improving. Conditions have not been satisfactory. They are not satisfactory now, and are getting worse. The prime cause is that, through one means and another, agriculture has not been getting its just reward. Now, the rest is another story, which I must tell another time. I thank you, gentlemen, for your patient hearing.
Mr. Thos. Findlay moved the vote of thanks, and Mr. J. Lockie Wilson, of the Department of Agriculture, seconded.