Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Torrie on Depression-Era Canadian Farm Debt Relief

[I have previously copped to a poorly hidden imperialist motive in my interest in comparative history, my tendency to value of a nation’s history principally as an instructive contrast to the case of the United States.  Can you blame me for succumbing to it again when I learned of the following paper, just days before I teach John Fliter and Derek Hoff’s book on Blaisdell?]

Virginia Torrie, University of Manitoba, has posted Saving the Farm: A Comparative Analysis of the Farmers' Creditors Arrangement Act in Manitoba and Ontario, which is forthcoming in the Manitoba Law Journal:

The Great Depression and Dust Bowl of the 1930s caused great hardship for many Canadian farmers, especially in the prairie provinces. In response to falling prices and crop yields, as well as increasing debt levels, Parliament enacted the Farmers’ Creditors Arrangement Act (FCAA). The mandate of the bold, new statute was to keep farmers on the land by reducing and rescheduling debts to suit the productive value of the farmland and the capacity of the farmer to pay. There is little academic scholarship that examines the FCAA and how it functioned in practice. This article builds on an earlier pilot study of FCAA case files in two Manitoba counties, and widens the empirical lens to consider applications from several more Manitoba counties as well as two Ontario counties. It offers the first analysis of how the FCAA operated in Ontario, employing both quantitative and qualitative data to provide a rich commentary, using examples of actual farmers. The analysis reveals that the application of the FCAA was strongly influenced by local, county-level factors. Rather surprisingly, there were few factors that can be attributed to differences between the two provinces more generally, notwithstanding the fact that there are notable variations in farming practices, operations and conditions in Ontario, a non-prairie province, and Manitoba, a prairie province. A secondary finding is that, in general, the compromises formulated under the FCAA were highly tailored to the individual farmer’s circumstances. However, there were nevertheless pockets of case files where a fairly uniform approach was used to resolve the financial hardship of farmers who were, seemingly, all in quite similar circumstances. Accordingly, the picture that emerges is complex. FCAA practice evinces stark contrasts – generating compromises which could be either bespoke or boilerplate – and limiting the extent to which one can generalize based on the empirical data from individual counties or regions.
–Dan Ernst