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We had left the canal and were steaming through the still waters outside Balboa. The thousand men on the trooper were strangely ■ quiet. They, leaned idly over the rail to watch the fish rise—and the sun sink. It was a thoughtful moment. At last, after four years, only the clear stretch of the Pacific intervened between soldiers and home. Behind them a few miles they had left the Panama Canal. The "digger" was looking far away. ObIvibusly he was full of ideas, just the time to tap him. He was still impressed with the 1 marvels of the Canal, but at the same time he was looking forward to the setting, sun, to New Zealand, .trying to apply the lessons of the Canal to his homeland. Chiefly he had been, struck with the silent power of electricity, which had poured coal like a cascade into the ship at Colon, which, with big engines, had towed our great ship from lock to lock, which swung lock" gates as easily as the swing-doors of a public bar. AH this power from a single river —the Chagres at the Gatum. spillway. The "digger" remarked that there was a lot of talk about reconstruction in New Zealand. The thing that would reconstruct the whole country, make it a live country, revolutionise it for the farmer or the manufacturer was electric power. If with so 'little they had done so much at Panama, what could be done in New Zealand. Birmingham, and the whofc huge factories of the Midlands, owed their prestige, their prosperity, to cheap power—coal. New (Zealand had vaster, more lasting resources in her water power. Everyone knew it, but so far the Government had tied it up, and would allow no one else to harness it. Through the Public Works Department a mere trickle had been/used. We wanted a live pubMc works policy to use it in floods, floods to submerge our war debt, floods to irrigate the country with green prosperity 7 floods to wash out the heaviest items of a burdensome taxation:.

The "digger's" eyes lighted with the lire of battle as he spoke of the Tmblic works policy. "Think of the Panama Canal and howifc was finished. With steam-shovels and track-lifters, with every up-to-date mechanicall contrivance, with energy and youth and push. Then think of our public works. A few picks, a shovel or so, any spare labour that the rest of the country will not pay for. Sir . William Fraser explicitly states that he will not compete with private employers, for labour. The result—the Otira tunnel still uncompleted, a dozen, railway^ lines tailing away to nowhere in particular, progress practically nil, cost out of all proportion. Surely most wasteful. Another case for reconstruction. What we want is one or two or three firstclass railway track-laying plants. We'd get some railways completed then, and at reasonable qost to the country. Not as .with the North. Auckland-or Marlborough connections, have the permanent way washed out before rails are laid on it." .■•„•'

That is the lesson which has been impressed on all "diggers" passing home through the Panama Canal. If New Zealand is so short of labour, then she requires the latest in machinery to economise it, and electric power to animate the machinery. Without these, the word reconstruction becomes like the words of politicians, meaningless, the cry for more .production and increased individual efficiency is empty, the land is starved for lack of cqmmuncations, the cities for driving power. The war has cost New Zealand £60,000,000. There is still more to pay. These loans are all unproductive. The lesson is obvious. If the Government will not develop the waterpower quickly, then it should lease the rights to municipalities first, then to private enterprise. There have been plenty of offers to do this in the past. But the Government has maintained its "dog in the manger" policy with excuses about unearned increment and with large promises for the future. Meanwhile days, weeks, months, years see the water-power unharnessed, simply wasted, and this in districts too where there is no coal. We hear a lot in the papers to-day about "efficiency." ! Surely the main target has been sadly missed. Where she used to lead, !New Zealand is now a laggard.

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Bibliographic details

THE PANAMA CANAL, Ashburton Guardian, Volume XXXIX, Issue 9576, 3 April 1919

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THE PANAMA CANAL Ashburton Guardian, Volume XXXIX, Issue 9576, 3 April 1919