CANADA'S IMMIGRATION PROBLEMS
AN ADDRESS BY THE RIGHT HON. SIR THOMAS
18th October, 1928
The subject upon which I have been invited to address you is "Canada's Immigration Problem". It is a subject in which there is widespread interest in Canada today. It is much talked of by our citizens. It is a topic of daily discussion in the editorial columns of the press. Chambers of Commerce, Boards of Trade, and other representative bodies pass frequent resolutions emphasizing the importance of immigration to the Dominion. The several Governments of the Dominion, Provincial as well as Federal, declare themselves as favourable to immigration, and claim to be putting forth their best efforts to increase its volume. Some of our publicists go so far as to assert that it is the biggest question before the Canadian people today, and that the supreme need of the Dominion at the moment is a larger population. It is not my intention to discuss controversial matters of administrative detail. The Minister of Immigration has a difficult task and any suggestion I may make is intended only to be helpful. My intention is to discuss only the broader national aspects of the problem. What is our present situation as to population? Do we need immigration, and, if so, upon what scale and of what kind? If we need immigration, from what sources shall we draw it, and what policies and measures should we adopt to effectuate the end we have in view?
What is our situation as to population? There is no doubt that the growth in population of Canada has been comparatively slow. It has not kept proportional pace with the growth of the Dominion in the other fields of our national life. Forty years ago it was five millions. In 1911 it was seven millions. today it is nine millions, probably a little more. Some claim that we are not retaining our natural increase notwithstanding our immigration. One naturally asks how it is that our production and our wealth have so enormously increased without corresponding increase in population. The main reason is, I think, the extent and richness of the natural resources of Canada which our railway expansion has opened up to development. Coupled with this is the extraordinary capability of the Canadian people. I remember the Hon. Mr. McAdoo asserting that per capita Canada was the most productive country in the world. In considering the slow growth in our population we must bear in mind that Canada is immediate neighbour to the United States. The attraction of opportunity in the Great Republic has always caused a considerable drain upon our population. This has been intensified by the quota system of restricted immigration enforced by the United States against the peoples of other continents, thus making the Republic a free market in a period of unexampled prosperity for Canadian labour and Canadian ability. This drain we have experienced from time to time in the past, and will likely continue to experience in greater or less degree dependent upon conditions on either side of the international boundary line. On the other hand half of our western settlers in the years immediately before the war came from the United States, and since the war Canadian business and industry have received great impetus from the investment of American capital aggregating three billion dollars.
It may be asked, as is indeed asked by some, why be so concerned about this matter of immigration? Canada is prospering today. Its people are enjoying a high degree of prosperity. Why not leave well enough alone. Why change the existing satisfactory situation by bringing in tens of thousands of new citizens who may disturb our labour conditions and bring about unemployment? The answer is that no one favours immigration of a character likely to bring about this result. We do not want wholesale, unrestricted immigration from all nations of the world. The immigration which Canada specially needs is an immigration which will become productive in the basic industries of the country. If we can broaden the base of our national production from the field, the forest and the mine, we shall surely strengthen and not weaken ourselves as a nation. For this not only producers but capital also is required. No one would seriously suggest an immigration policy whose object was merely to increase the population of our great cities. We must not forget that every newcomer who becomes a producer in these basic industries become a consumer as well. Production and consumption mean trade-increase of national wealth and industrial employment. If we increase basic production, industrial production will be automatically increased. Our employment will adapt itself to the enlarging situation. The greater our population engaged in productive industries, the greater the opportunity to retain the sons of Canada in diversified industry in Canada. Our first great problem after Confederation was to link the East and the West and thus join together the scattered parts of the Dominion. This was accomplished by the building of our transcontinental railway systems. Settlement followed and we now have a strip of population across the southern part of the Dominion. What we now need is to give depth to our population. The problem is to fill up our vacant spaces, to occupy our vacant stretches of agricultural lands. The national instinct of the Canadian people will hardly be satisfied until these spaces are populated and our other resources developed. This will, of course, take many decades to fully accomplish. To endeavour to accomplish it suddenly would result in national indigestion.
Assuming that there is accord as to the desirability of an active immigration policy, the question arises as to the kind of immigrant that will best serve the needs of Canada for population. Here there seems to be substantial agreement. We do not want people who through infirmity of body or mind are likely to become a charge on the community. We want those who are likely to succeed as Canadian citizens. We do not want anarchists. We want people who will be capable of assimilation-who will understand and appreciate our constitutional system of Government, and be able to play their part as citizens in building up the Dominion. We want industrious people. We want settlers for our vacant lands, of which we have still many millions of acres. I think the needs of Canada for immigrant skilled and unskilled workers will take care of themselves without specially aggressive effort. The real problem for Canada is to obtain settlers for our vacant areas of agricultural lands, and these are mainly in Western Canada -in the Prairie Provinces, the Peace River District and British Columbia. There is also room for many settlers in Northern Ontario and Quebec, and in the Maritime Provinces.
Where shall we find these new citizens for Canada? Naturally we turn first to the British Isles whose people are our kith and kin, of the same racial stock, and our fellow citizens of the British Empire of which we form so important a part. The Prime Minister stated in London last week that his Government welcomed with open arms men, women and children from Britain. He was on sound ground in making that declaration. It expressed the sentiment of the great body of the Canadian people. Canada put forth a prodigious effort to save the Empire in the great War. Canada is willing to co-operate in strengthening the Empire by helping to solve the problems of the peace. We must bear in mind that a citizen of the British Isles is not likely to enter upon the adventure of migrating, especially if he has a family, unless with the expectation of materially improving his condition. If he is to settle upon the land he must have some capital, either of his own of advanced to him, or he must be reasonably certain or obtaining work in the neighbourhood of his holding. He must be able to bridge time. His farm land must be broken. It will be a considerable time before it is sufficiently productive to maintain his family. In the meantime they must live. This is one of the obstacles to settlement in Canada today. The unemployed British citizen is in a favoured position as compared with those of last century. He has unemployment insurance. He has the old age pension. He may be out of work in Britain but he will not starve. It requires unusual courage and force of character to migrate and take chances in a new country. All this adds to the difficulty of our immigration problem so far as concerns Britain.
We know by experience that immigration from the Scandinavian countries is good. They are northern people like ourselves with some similarity of climate and somewhat of the same individualistic outlook on life. They and others of Northern Europe will make good settlers for our vacant agricultural stretches. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister of Ontario say that he intended to give special attention to the matter of immigration from Denmark, Norway and Sweden. They are thrifty, industrious people, and they and their children will make good Canadian citizens.
Then what about the United States? Before the war about half of our yearly immigration was coming from that source. Tens of thousands of American farmers sold their high-priced lands in the middle and north-western States and migrated to Saskatchewan and Alberta to take up homesteads and low-priced lands. They were excellent settlers. They brought capital were practical-knew precisely how to start and carry on their farming operations. During the war and the depression which followed many of these left the West and returned to the United States. There is evidence that this immigration from the United States is being renewed. If we examine the immigration returns for the years immediately preceding the war we find American immigration about half of the whole, British about 30 to 40%, and other nations the remainder.
This being the general view of the situation, the question arises, how can we increase the volume of desirable immigration? Much thought has been given to the subject by Governments, railway and transportation executives, business organizations and citizens generally. I do not propose to criticize any of the schemes put forward. All have their merits. Some have advocated the spending of hundreds of millions by Canada in bringing in settlers from the British Isles, furnishing them with land equipped with cottages and farm buildings, loans to be repaid over a period of thirty or forty years at a low rate of interest. This would no doubt be effectual in obtaining settlers, but the cost of any such operation on a scale worth while would be very great. Take an expenditure of, say, $5,000 per family. To establish 50,000 families would cost $250,000,000. There is a further difficulty. Many of our own people in the East would say that they would like to take advantage of such a generous scheme, and it would be impossible to deny them the benefits we should be extending to settlers from abroad. All our Provinces would desire to be considered in locating these settlers. This would mean the buying of high-priced land. There is much merit in the plan of cheap passages, and particularly of bringing out boys and young men after a preliminary training in the rudiments of agriculture.
I have no doubt the railways will place many newcomers in the Peace River district under some system of assisted settlement scheme. If the British Government desires to finance community settlements in the West, Canada will, I am sure, be willing to co-operate in furnishing free land. But when all has been done the proposals made seem inadequate to give us the volume of immigration both Britain and Canada would like to see, except upon a basis of expenditure that has not yet been contemplated by the Imperial Government.
Is there any policy we can adopt to assist land settlement schemes of this kind? Let us examine into the conditions of our large volume immigration of the past. You will find it associated always with periods of vast railway construction. Even before Confederation you will find a large volume of immigration during the period of construction of the Grand Trunk, Great Western, and other Railway Companies. This construction meant work, expenditure of money on a huge scale. The intending settler could get part-time work on railway construction and gradually establish his family on the land. The ready cash enabled him to bridge time. He could sell timber for ties or bridges. You see the same process going on in Northern Ontario and Quebec, where the settlers in conjunction with their small farming operations sell spruce to the pulp and paper companies and ties to the railways. In this way they are able to partly support themselves and gain time to clear and cultivate their lands.
Now come to the period after Confederation. If you turn up the statistical records of immigration into Canada you will find that the most striking periods were in the eighties and early nineties of last century, and the first fifteen years of the present century. These were the periods of the construction of the C.P.R. and of the Canadian Northern and Grand Trunk Pacific enterprises. . During the period of construction of the C.P.R. one million immigrants came into Canada followed by a very considerable settlement in the Canadian North West. The C.P.R. construction, including branch-line construction, lasted into the nineties and for a few years afterwards there was little railway construction in Canada. The figures show that with the cessation of railway construction immigration also fell off, and we find a very thin stream indeed until the early years of the present century. But by this time railway construction was again in full swing. Mackenzie and Mann were carrying their line through from Winnipeg to Edmonton, afterwards to Vancouver. The Transcontinental Railway from Moncton to Winnipeg and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway from Winnipeg to Prince Rupert were under construction. These joint enterprises resulted in the expenditure of hundreds of millions of money in Canada. This capital was imported from Great Britain, that is to say, raised by the sale of securities of these Companies guaranteed by Governments of Canada. The Canadian Pacific during this period engaged also in a great deal of branch-line construction. What was the result on immigration? It was the greatest period of immigration in the history of Canada. From the beginning of the century to the outbreak of war Canada received in immigration over two and a half million people. The West went ahead by leaps and bounds. Homesteading, particularly in the vicinity of railway lines, was on an unprecedented scale. Settlement on the soil proceeded at a rapid pace. Western Canada was being populated by settlers who come attracted by the lure of free lands which they could make a home. Why was it that vast scale immigration synchronized with this enormous railway construction programme. Why was it that the eras of railway development in Canada were the eras in which we received the largest tides of immigration? It must be that we can look for immigration when times are particularly good-in boom periods so to speak, when those in other countries who have the courage to consider the question of migrating see a chance to advance their fortunes-to better their condition in the country to which they migrate.
We must keep in mind that there are two sides to the question. We may desire immigration from Britain or from other countries, but the other aspect is whether they will come. Are conditions such as to attract them if they are able to come, either on their own means or by assistance of Governments in paying part of their passage money? Unless they are confident that they will be able to obtain work to maintain themselves and their families they will not come. They should not come. No one would expect them to come.
Not only did the prospect of work attract immigration during the period of railway development, but that development made possible the settlement of the west and such settlements as we have in the north. Take the case of a British citizen who may desire to settle in the Canadian West as a farmer. You may give him a free grant of land or he may be able to buy some cheap land. But before his farm can possibly sustain him and his family he must break it-a long and expensive job-must build houses and farm buildings, acquire teams and farm implements. How is he to live in the meantime? Railway construction and its allied activities gave him part-time employment. Thousands of settlers in Western Canada worked on railway construction, helped to build the tracks, stations, culverts, bridges throughout the West, or were employed in other activities to which railway construction gave rise. Villages, towns and cities sprang up. There was work, and work in proximity to the land which they settled. This work gave them ready money. They could bridge the time necessary to do their homestead duties, build their houses and add to their cultivation. Canada's land settlement owes much to the building of Canada's railway. There might be industrial activity in Eastern Canada. But men could not work there and settle in the West. The point is that there had to be work to give part-time employment, and it had to be in the vicinity of the land to be settled. What I have said about western settlement is true with regard to the settlements in northern Quebec and Ontario. The land itself for years will not give sustenance. The settler must supplement his work on the farm by work outside the farm, or by the sale of ties, timber, spruce to enterprises, railway or industrial, in this neighborhood. There is another point. The railways made settlement possible by giving access. Without the railways there could be no settlement of the land. The railways brought the lands of the West in touch with the markets of the world. In Canada we have had to build our railways in advance of settlement, otherwise we should have no settlement at all. Now what about the present situation? We are told that there are many overseas who desire to come to Canada. It is said that they would come if assured that they would be able to make a living or settle on the land. Most of them have little or no capital. The question arises, what are we to do with them after arrival? Many, no doubt, would be absorbed in our industries. We are in a very prosperous condition at the present time with very little unemployment in Canada today. But we feel that we need more basic production, more production from the soil. We agree that the most desirable settler is the settler on the land. All the provinces desire this class of immigration. I have pointed out that for Canada to stake these men until they succeed in agriculture alone would cost very large sums of money and, besides, presents many other difficulties. No doubt much can be done in that line. The British Government is prepared to spend considerable sums to promote land settlement beyond the seas. The Governments of Canada will no doubt co-operate to the extent they feel justified. But what will take the place of the railway construction in opening up new districts to cultivation and enabling the settler to earn money in part-time employment. No doubt we shall have considerable railway extension. Branch line construction will help. The tapping of the Peace River district has the earmarks of the old time development in the Northwest. I expect settlement to flow from this. The building of the Hudson Bay Railway will deepen settlement in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Our mining development in northern Canada will attract workers for the mines. Personally, I should look forward to a fair flow of immigration due to these conditions.
But there is one kind of national activity which I believe will be more helpful than all these in promoting land settlement in Canada, and that is highway construction. The ties that bound together the East and West of Canada were physically speaking, railway ties. The cement that will bind them more closely together and every part of each of them to every other part, will be the cement of highway construction. Money spent on the construction of highways is not wasted. It is productive expenditure in the highest sense of the term. I well remember after the Armistice we were greatly concerned as to the conditions which might prevail in Canada due to the disorganization which must inevitaby result from the closing down of munition plants, cessation of ship-building, and other war industries, and the demobilization of Canada's citizen army. Many measures were enacted to meet these conditions, one being the Canada Highway Act, under which the Dominion Government distributed twenty million dollars among the provinces to aid in highway construction. I do not know of any measure which resulted in as good results for the money as that Bill. The 8000 miles of highway construction which has been completed in Canada since the War has, I believe, been one of the greatest factors in building up our prosperity. The tourist traffic alone which it has promoted has become one of our greatest sources of national wealth. It now exceeds three hundred millions yearly. It is only at the beginning, and what has promoted it more than anything else has been good roads in the various provinces. The motor car has transformed our daily life. Canadians own a million cars. In Canada it has been of particular value because it has annihilated distance. In the old days in the West it was essential that a settler should be close to the railways so as to be able to deliver his grain without undue expense. He also liked to be near to community centres both for the purpose of obtaining supplies and for social recreation. The motor has greatly enlarged the field within which settlement can be carried on. It has changed the character of conditions in the country. It has destroyed the isolation which was so disastrous in the experience of settlers in remote and thinly settled districts. But the motor depends upon good roads. There are thousands of miles of main and market roads still to be improved in our north and in the western provinces. The work in connection with this will be very considerable, involving the expenditure of millions of money. The maintenance will require labour. The improvement of these roads will mean the bringing under cultivation of increased areas of land. It will promote social activities among the settlers. It makes possible community life even in a sparsely settled district. It is gratifying to note that all the provinces are alive to the importance of the good roads movement. The question of finance is not too difficult because a large revenue can be derived from motor licences and the tax on gasoline. In the northern part of Quebec and Ontario, in the Prairie Provinces, in British Columbia-indeed in all the provinces, I know of nothing more likely to promote settlement on the land than the extension of good roads. It will take the place of the railway construction which I have mentioned. We must not only seek to obtain settlers but we must create the conditions here under which the settler can live and prosper after he comes to Canada. An enlarged programme of highway construction including the trans-Canada highway, carried on by the several Provincial Governments, or by them with the assistance of the Dominion Government, will, in my opinion, mean more to Canada in attracting, settling and retaining settlers of the needed kind than any other single measure which we can devise. Even if my view is over-optimistic in this we can suffer no loss from the improvement of our highways. All expenditures of this kind will be abundantly repaid by increased economy of marketing to our farmers, and of distribution in our business community, and the increase which will result to the tourist traffic. It is a case of expending money where the nation cannot lose, but must inevitably gain. It is my suggestion as one of the best means of aiding in the solution of Canada's immigration problem and at the same time of increasing the general prosperity of the Dominion.