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  • In the Power of the Government: The Rise and Fall of Newsprint in Ontario, 1894–1932 by Mark Kuhlberg
  • George Colpitts
Mark Kuhlberg. In the Power of the Government: The Rise and Fall of Newsprint in Ontario, 1894–1932. University of Toronto Press. xvi, 408. $36.95

Mark Kuhlberg's history of Ontario's newsprint industry offers fundamentally new understandings of the workings of the state and big capital enterprise in Ontario. By the mid-1920s the pulp and paper industry ranked as the province's most important manufacturing activity in terms of wages, capital, and labour. Its growth is usually attributed to the mutually profitable relationships developing between government and business in crown resource traditions, the "politics of development" H.V. Nelles identified at play from colonial to modern times. Kuhlberg, however, argues that industrialized paper broke the mould. Pulp and paper mills expanded in Ontario in spite, not because, of provincial government support. The province's political regimes, whether Liberal, Conservative, United Farmer, or again Conservative, between 1894 and 1932 perceived more to lose than gain in wholly backing big-scale industrialized pulp and paper. Instead, government priorities lay in an ill-conceived agriculturalist expansion in Ontario's north. It supported farmers razing forests wholesale for cash, catered to lumber barons offering more lucrative government patronage, and encouraged middlemen who exported pulpwood to American manufacturers either legally or illegally. Despite the façade of the "manufacturing condition" that ostensibly restricted raw softwood exports to encourage home industry, successive governments did little to actually champion the cause. The Liberals, then, helped three enterprises get off the ground but learned the advantage of continuing support to smaller and politically connected lumber interests. The Whitney Conservatives officially dedicated themselves to the "public interest," but they supported conscientiously sawmill businessmen who contributed to party war chests and farmers who, clearing their lands, wanted markets for softwood cuttings. The United Farmers attempted to break the patronage system but succumbed to its reality, turning a blind eye to American companies and their Canadian subsidiaries who abused mining and land grant provisions to export vast quantities of softwood. Governments, then, helped encourage chaotic exploitation among many players while offering little security and no coherent policy to help big [End Page 217] industry. This was particularly the case during the Conservatives' long tenure from 1923 to 1934. Howard Fergusson, premier to 1930, lorded over the government's lease system. Recognizing by then the sheer size of the paper industry, he nevertheless awarded concessions parsimoniously to favourites and kept the industry on a short leash. He insisted that concessionaires increase output which raised popular support for his party, but imperilled the industry by further glutting the pulp paper markets. Kuhlberg's analysis, then, offers a valuable history of state and business in Canada. But it makes a particularly significant contribution to environmental history. The paper industry ultimately grew because of the comparative advantages offered in Ontario's forests, river systems, and water powers. Pulpwood wealth, however, was consistently overestimated in boreal and especially mixed wood forests. Lacking firm government security and contending with complex restrictions to the limited softwood on their leases, companies scrambled to find alternative sources. Some built railways to procure land grants to cut spruce; most had to turn to farmers to gain vital supply. Companies meanwhile wildly exaggerated the reality of softwood wealth on their concessions to curry the confidence of investors. Kuhlberg's research also positions this industry within the conservation age. These massive and permanent mills benefited from modern management techniques, and their owners had an interest to rationally plan the use of primary and future secondary growth softwood stands on the vast long-term leases they sought from governments. Even though government forestry experts urged their political overseers to grant companies the leases and tenure they sought to raise investor confidence and put them in a better financial position, political interests trumped rational considerations. Kuhlberg points out that these companies in fact tended to better conserve their forest concessions than smaller concerns with smaller stakes and shorter-term interests. In the Power of the Government, then, offers a new view of the nature of state power and its...


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