( Originally Published 1919 )
THE control of the supply of fuel was one of the war problems, and, indeed, it continued to be an after-the-war problem. There was the promise of a shortage of coal in 1916; that is, there were preliminary symptoms of what about the beginning of the New Year of 1918 became a coal crisis. It arose out of two conditions that belonged to the whole of North America, and particularly to the United States. One was the disturbance of the labour situation, caused by the growing scarcity of labour as the war advanced; the other, the disorganization of transportation systems caused by the congestion of traffic. The situation became so grave in the winter of 1917-18, that it resulted in the taking over by the United States Government of the entire railway systems of the country for the purpose of simplifying the routing of traffic and relieving terminals and increasing their facilities. The seriousness of the situation was accentuated by the severity of the weather, which of itself was sufficient to have created blockades and stoppage, or at least much delay, in the moving of coal. There was acute distress as a consequence of these conditions in many of the cities of the Eastern States. As Ontario and Quebec, and to some extent the Middle West of Canada, depended upon the United States collieries for their supply of anthracite, they suffered in some degree correspondingly. Canadian railways, however, could have handled the necessary supply, if it could have been delivered at conjunctional points by the railways of the United States.
To get the proper perspective one must look back to the winter of 1916-17, when conditions caused by the war brought home to Canadians its adverse effects on their fuel supplies. After the experience of that win-ter it was apparent that Government intervention was necessary. On the 7th of July, 1917, an official memorandum was submitted to the Committee of the Privy Council by the Minister of Trade and Commerce in which were the following observations :
" Last winter very considerable difficulty and hardship were experienced owing to shortage of supplies and congestion of transport, resulting in increased prices to consumers, serious temporary curtailment of production in factories, and much discomfort and privation in the homes of the poorer classes in towns and cities. These causes bid fair to continue and with increasing force during the present season and are added to by the scarcity of labour and the larger demand for coal in both the United States and Canada, owing to the ever growing exigencies of the war.
" At the present moment the outlook for the coming year gives cause for grave anxiety and calls for prompt and efficient action if subsequent shortage and its consequent privations are to be avoided. The Quebec district, which formerly drew for its needs for railways and factories some 2,000,000 tons of bituminous coal from Nova Scotia mines, cannot estimate more than 200,000 tons from that source. Nearly all the prospective output of these mines will be required for local needs, bunkering purposes, and the use of the Intercolonial Railway. The only source of supply for this deficiency, as also of the needs of Middle Canada, is to be found in the mines of the United States.
" Here two difficulties are encountered : First, the high price and shortage of supply in the United States mines, caused by extraordinary demands, and reduced output owing to scarcity of labour. The entrance of the United States into the war, and the vast preparations necessary for the equipment of her sea and land forces and the growing needs of the Allies, call for vastly increased output of coal and added restriction of export for other than war purposes. In the second place, transport by land and water is daily becoming more inadequate compared to the increasing volume of freight to be moved, and the freight costs are continually increasing.
" In the Western Prairie Provinces the supply has been diminished by strikes in some of the mines, and in respect to those working the output is restricted by the tendency to neglect putting in orders during the summer season and consequent failure to haul coal to consuming centres during the slack and favourable season."
Mr. C. A. Magrath, a man of wide experience in business and national affairs, was appointed Fuel Con-troller for Canada on the 12th of July, 1917. In the Order-in-Council creating the office and making the appointment, he was authorized, among other things, to " confer with and co-ordinate the different interests with a view to insure, so far as possible, a sufficient supply of coal for Canadian requirements during the approaching autumn and winter season."
To realize the nature of the problem, let us look at the figures of coal consumption in Canada during the calendar year 1917. In that year, the tonnage of coal used was as follows :
5,319,688 net tons of Anthracite coal. 29,497,375 net tons of Bituminous coal.
Total 34,817,063 net tons.
The anthracite coal is practically all utilized for domestic purposes. There is only one mine in Canada producing a near-anthracite coal, and the tonnage from that seldom exceeds 150,000 tons per year. It is apparent, therefore, that Canada depends upon the United States almost entirely for that class of coal.
The bituminous coal is used largely for industrial purposes. Out of the 29,497,375 tons of total consumption Nova Scotia produces 6,324,684 tons; New Bruns-wick, 188,660; Saskatchewan, 355,304 tons; Alberta, 4,723,139 tons ; and British Columbia, 2,418,920 tons ; making a total of 14,010,707 net tons, which leaves Canada indebted to the United States for the balance (after deducting 1,733,156 tons of coal exported from Canadian coal mines) of 17,219,824 tons of bituminous coal, or a total importation of 22,539,512 tons of the annual coal consumption of 34,817,063 net tons.
It will thus be seen that Canada's contribution to lier coal supply is comparatively small. Also, that the two great industrial provinces, Ontario and Quebec, depend almost entirely on the United States, not alone for their domestic coal but also for industrial coal.
It was, therefore, obvious that one of the chief functions of the Canadian Fuel Controller was to make such representations to the authorities of the United States as would ensure a sufficient supply for the portions of Canada depending upon the latter for their coal. It also involved a policy for Canada which would co-ordinate with that of the United States in respect of the distribution of fuel from whatever source it came, except, of course, where it could be shown that peculiar local conditions existed that required to be specially dealt with to avoid hardships. The restrictive measures of one country had necessarily to be adopted by the other.
About the time of Mr. Magrath's appointment, President Wilson took similar action in the United States by appointing Dr. Harry A. Garfield as Fuel Administrator. In an article by Dudley Harmon it is stated that " the war job handed Doctor Garfield was to get enough coal out of the mines to meet the needs for fuel, and put it into the hands of consumers at fair prices."
He goes on to say that " there is not and never has been a fundamental shortage of coal in the United States. The difficulty has been to get enough coal out of the ground and distribute it to the places where it was needed, fast enough to meet the demand. Our so-called shortages are really not shortages actually of coal, but shortages of production and transportation."
In respect of production, the situation with which Doctor Garfield had to grapple was decidedly abnormal. As compared with normal times, it was a case of having to meet enormously increased demands for coal at a time when the supply of labour available for such production was decreased. It is stated that the production of soft coal in the United States in the year 1917 was 554,000,000 tons, but the country demanded 600,000,-000 tons. For 1918 it was estimated that 635,000,000 tons would be needed. It is quite obvious that war cannot be waged without coal, and the more the United States got into its stride the greater became the consumption of coal. The making of munitions, the fuel-ling of transports, the maintenance of military camps these are only some of the many operations of war which entail the use of coal in huge quantities.
In Canada, Mr. Magrath had on his hands a similar problem in relation to the production of our own mines. Mention has already been made of the tonnage of coal produced in Nova Scotia. Of that production a goodly proportion roughly, about one-fourth was brought up the St. Lawrence in the days before the war. Any-one who has spent a holiday at the summering places on the Lower St. Lawrence must have noticed in the old days the coal boats going up the river laden with the black diamonds for Montreal. But after 1914 these boats were no longer hauling coal to Montreal, primarily because there was hardly any Nova Scotia coal available for that market. Much of it had been absorbed for bunkering on transports, whilst at the same time there were increased demands locally owing to the fact that the war had caused the steel plants in that province to increase their activities.
It will be seen that the demand for coal in time of war is greater than in time of peace, but as a matter of fact all the conditions of warfare tend to a diminution of its production. In the United States, the drawing away of men by various inducements into other industrial lines and the drafting of men for fighting was the chief factor in hampering the production of coal. There have been many claims as to how the war was Won that is, as to what was the essential factor the Navy, aeroplanes, iron, the participation of the United States, and so on; but, undoubtedly, in a large sense, coal was a main factor in the success of the Allies. Next in importance to the mining of the coal itself, and complementary to it, was transportation. Reference has already been made to that as a prime factor in the situation which called for effective control of the fuel supply, and it is not necessary here to detail the difficulties, of which the weather was one, that were experienced by the railways in fulfilling their functions at such a critical time. The practical breakdown of transportation for a period slowed up production, be-cause there were not empty cars enough to load the coal as it was mined. Mr. Magrath pays a tribute to the Canadian railways for their work. " We must realize," he said in a statement on the subject, " that our railways, like those of the United States, are working overtime ; in fact Canadian railways are to be commended for having so successfully handled the country's transportation business with so little loss to the country's industrial plant."
A Canadian railway man has expressed the opinion that if coal were equally distributed throughout Canada, there would be no coal problem. He says: " To get coal you would, as heretofore, simply have to find a 'phone number and mail a cheque; the black diamonds might even be found in your own back yard. But Canada has coal at its ends only, and it is the middle where more people want coal. This hiatus, which contains about seventy per cent. of Canada's normal industrial-ism and practically all its war industrialism, is called by fuel experts the ' acute fuel area.' It stretches, roughly speaking, from Sherbrooke, Quebec, to Moose Jaw, Sask."
The coal year in Canada ends in April, and as the greater part of the importations are received during the season of navigation, it was clear that not much more could be done in 1917 than to study the situation statistically, so to speak, and to organize to meet the requirements of the situation for the coal year following, which, as has been seen, were strenuous. The results were crystallized into a set of comprehensive regulations dealing with all phases of the coal situation, which were approved by Order-in-Council in November, 1917, and which were very generally circulated throughout Canada. A new set of regulations was framed and issued on the first of April, 1918, and these, too, had extensive circulation. By these regulations the chain of responsibility from the Government, through the Fuel Controller, down to the municipality and the individual was established. In other words, provision was made for the appointment of fuel administration by the provinces and again by the municipalities, municipalities and provinces being responsible for the expenses of their offices. To make fuel regulation effective, the Fuel Controller had either to create a comprehensive and very expensive organization for the Dominion or to make use of existing provincial and municipal machinery. The scheme, it may be said, worked out almost as well in practice as it was designed to do in theory. It may be added that other nations as well as Canada and the United States had to organize on similar lines. As the war lengthened the' coal situation in Europe became serious and we find a corresponding plan in operation in Great Britain, France, and Italy, where fuel problems were much more acute than on this side of the seas.
The scheme of administration, in brief, was as follows :
1. The Fuel Controller for Canada looked after negotiations for the importation of coal from the United States and for the prompt and systematic shipment thereof. He also interested himself in promoting increased production of coal in Canada in the fields within which he has jurisdiction. He obtained from Canadian mines an estimate of their production and received from the United States Fuel Administrator an allotment of coal from that country. The Fuel Con-troller then proceeded, after careful consideration, to make up his annual coal " budget " and to allot to each province in Canada its fair share of all coal available.
2. The Provincial Fuel Administrator then stepped in and ascertained the requirements of each community in his province and made his allotment within the province of whatever coal was available upon an equitable basis.
3. The Local Fuel Commissioner was thereupon informed what his allotment would be for the year and he was expected to see that the tonnage available was distributed amongst the people in his community on a fair pro rata basis. All this was done under carefully drafted regulations.
The appointment of such commissioners devolved upon the municipality and their duties and responsibilities were defined in the Fuel Controller's regulations which were passed by Order-in-Council in March, 1918.
The names of the Fuel Administrators for the Provinces were as follows: Prince Edward Island, J. A. Macdonald, Cardigan, P. E. I.; Nova Scotia, R. H. Mackay, New Glasgow, N. S.; New Brunswick, Dr. James H. Frink, St. John, N. B.; Quebec, H. M. Marier, Montreal; Ontario, R. Home Smith, Toronto; Manitoba, J. A. MacDonald, Winnipeg; Saskatchewan, T. M. Molloy, Regina; Alberta, John T. Stirling, Edmonton; British Columbia, N. Thompson, Vancouver.
It must be clearly understood, too, that the regulations were applicable to bituminous coal, mined and sold in Canada, as well as to anthracite coal imported. Not only was the price of coal at the pit's mouth fixed, according to peculiar local circumstances, but, through the intervention of the Government, the price of labour employed in the mines was regulated. The intervention of authority went so far that the coal mines in the Maritime Provinces were turned over to the management of Mr. Magrath, who, in addition to being Fuel Controller, became super-manager and director-in-chief of coal-mining operations. This was the re-suit of labour troubles and the apparent inability of the operators and the miners to settle their differences satisfactorily. Production in a critical time of war could not be permitted to cease at any cost. Three paragraphs in a lengthy circular issued by the Deputy Fuel Controller, Mr. Charles Petersen, express in very concise terms what may be necessary to complete an account of organization and regulation.
" After careful consideration of the whole subject, Mr. Magrath decided that the only effective form of price control that could be adopted in Canada was one based on the restriction of net profits to coal dealers. The prices of coal at the mine in the United States are fixed by the Federal Fuel Administrator there. The price of coal at the pit's mouth in Canadian mines is fixed from time to time. Railway rates in both countries are also determined by the various commissions charged with this responsibility and boat rates can also be ascertained. The dealers' net profit is fixed under our regulations. This, in the retail trade, leaves only the overhead and delivery expenses as the uncertain element.
" Detailed regulations have now been passed under which coal dealers are directed as to the overhead expenses that will be considered legitimate. Salaries to principals are to be calculated on a pre-war basis with such reasonable additions as are justifiable, and minute directions are given in other respects. Coal dealers are compelled to render monthly statements of their transactions and prices at which their coal is sold, so that the Fuel Controller's organization has at all times information available with which to check up complaints lodged in regard to alleged profiteering. It is only fair to state, that the Fuel Controller has found the coal trade generally in the hands of responsible men who have been conducting business on the basis of very reasonable net profits.
" In July the Fuel Controller got authority by-Order-in-Council to put into force, wherever he thought necessary, the United States plan of gross margins, that is, to fix the amount the dealer is permitted to add to the cost of his coal, so as to deter-mine the delivered price to the consumer. Quite recently the United States Fuel Administration has gone a step further and has given authority to the State Fuel Administrators to fix prices, with the right of the dealers to appeal to the Administration at Washing-ton. However, Mr. Magrath does not contemplate taking that step in Canada at present."
There was an additional duty not defined, but implied, in the scheme that of the individual. For in-stance, each consumer of coal was required to state his normal requirements and each dealer had to furnish records of his deliveries. No man could have more than his minimum requirements. This duty was not only moral in its obligations, but the individual could be dealt with drastically if he selfishly succeeded in securing to himself a supply of fuel greater than was fair in community rationing. It was, of course, impossible for the Fuel Controller and his staff to super-vise in detail the work from Halifax to Vancouver, and while the provincial organizations from their wider functions were able to perform them on the whole successfully and satisfactorily it was more difficult in the case of municipalities. As the Fuel Controller could exercise no dictatorial control over them, only advise, it was a matter for the people in each community to agitate and bring public opinion to bear on the municipal councils to take the simple step of naming a local fuel commissioner. In many places municipal councils have not taken the step even yet (February, 1919), and it illustrates a tendency that was very evident in fuel and food matters during the war, of criticizing severely central, or federal, administration, but evading responsibility when it became local and individual. It was, however, so far as coal is concerned, properly assumed and exercised in the majority of instances. Even a long war is too short to bring home to the local community and the fireside the duty of local and individual, as well as of national, participation in moral obligations. In this connection it has not yet been determined to what extent the machinery of Fuel Control may be necessary to be continued in the public interests. Among business men generally, the desire is to get back to pre-war conditions, free from restrictive regulations and excessive control, as soon as possible. Our business life has been evolved on a system of, so to speak, " self-determination " and personal initiative, and the very idea of working on a plan of government-made rules is irksome and depressing. In other words, it is contrary to the genius of a free Anglo-Saxon people. On the other hand, under the provisions of the War Measures Act it has been found possible to do many things in the way of regulation to meet the requirements of an exigent situation that would, otherwise, in ordinary times, have been considered impossible. Rightly or wrongly, there is now a consider-able class of the community who think that war expedients, more or less successful for contingent requirements, should be applicable in time of peace and for all time to come. At all events, for a transitionary period, fuel control, at least, will probably remain with us, for the reason that the conditions of mining and distribution of coal for the needs of both the United States and Canada have not yet reverted to normal.
In recording the work of official organizations, mention should be made of the action taken by the Government of the United States, in assuming control of the railroads, which was of assistance to the Fuel Administration in that country in dealing with the problem of coal transportation. In Canada the problem was approached from a somewhat different angle. The railroads themselves undertook the formation of the Canadian Railway War Board, on which all lines operating in the Dominion were represented, with Lord Shaughnessy as chairman. This Board, through its general secretary, Mr. W. M. Neal, has rendered the Fuel Controller valuable assistance, the importance of which may be judged from the fact that the hauling of coal for themselves and the public amounts to about one-fifth of the total freight carried by all the railways of Canada. It requires the service of approximately one thousand freight engines and 23,000 freight cars for one year to haul Canada's coal supply.
Reference has already been made to the fact that during the war period, comparatively little Sydney coal has been moved up the St. Lawrence river by water. The boats formerly in that service were gradually requisitioned by the British Admiralty, resulting in a shortage of steamers both for the trade up the St. Lawrence and for the coastal trade. It is estimated that the loss of these ships threw upon the railways the task of moving some extra fifty thousand cars.
In dealing with such questions as food and fuel control, and in the campaigns of enlistment and Victory Loans, the matter of publicity entered very largely into the efforts of those who were in charge. In respect of fuel control, appeals were made to the newspapers, to whose credit it must be said that, in a time of abnormal news pressure, they responded most liberally.
While the several campaigns were on it would not have been easy to pick up any Canadian newspaper that had not an editorial or a news article devoted to the fuel question, and while there was sometimes criticism, the articles were in the main sympathetic and cordially co-operative. Very effective posters were also sent out and displayed conspicuously throughout the country. Moving picture slides were likewise freely brought into requisition. This campaign of publicity did not relieve the situation in so far as anthracite coal was concerned, because that was beyond the control of an aroused public opinion, but it did have the effect of impressing the people with the necessity of conserving and wisely distributing the available supply of fuel.
The present situation (February, 1919) is that there is no possibility of immediately increasing the tonnage allotted to Canada, notwithstanding the cessation of hostilities. Indeed, for the moment, the prospect of a signed peace had the effect of decreasing production, inasmuch as the miners laid off to celebrate the signing of the Armistice. Production was also adversely affected by the influenza epidemic. With the possibility of a winter as mild as the last was severe, it was thought that by continuing the policy already inaugurated, even with a tonnage approximately twenty-five per cent. less than in 1917, all legitimate requirements would be met.
This war, dire, disastrous and pathetic as it was, has taught the world many lessons. One is the virtue of economy in fuel and of the conservation of the natural sources of supply both looming large on the horizon of our economic future. Fuel has many forms coal, wood, natural gas, water power, gasolene, alcohol, straw, and other carbonaceous products. War has vivified its importance in an unexpected way, and in a way that would not otherwise for a long time to come have been understood. It has revealed to us that in fuel resources we have a trust in keeping for posterity, the neglect of which some day may leave the world cold and in darkness. Fuel control has turned the exigencies of a world to good account by showing in a practical, though for the time being a necessitous way, how that trust, in a measure at least, may be exercised for humanity's sake.