Ordeal by Fire: Canada, 1910-1945

By Ralph Allen | Go to book overview

XXVII
The farmers try their strength--The rise of the Progressives and the beginning of their fall

THE Winnipeg strike had spoken to the country in the simple idiom of the political cartoonist and the pamphleteer. It was a clash of absolutes: in one view, anarchy and Red revolt against order and decency; in another, plutocratic greed and oppression against the rights of man. In truth, of course, its roots were deeper and more tangled than either combatant could see. Its fruits could not be measured in broken heads, man-hours of employment lost, or mandays spent in jail.

It was not only labor that emerged from 1918 intent on a better deal and aware of the advantages of seeking it through common action. The farmers, still by far the country's largest and most important occupational group, were off in hot pursuit of their own special interests too.

For many of them the war had brought their first real taste of abundance. The prices they got for everything they raised or grew went up and up and up. So did the amounts they sold. The country's total wheat acreage almost doubled between 1913 and 1919. The price per bushel tripled. Unable to borrow money abroad to pay for the war, full of the conviction that high taxation defeats its own ends, the government had relied on food exports for its largest source of cash. The value of meat shipped abroad increased fifteen times and of livestock three and a half times. Cheese and butter production doubled.

Moreover, there were things to buy with the extra cash, for although normal trade dried up, the domestic manufacture of clothing, furniture, tobacco, and most other consumer goods increased. How well off this made the farmer either in absolute or comparative

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