The threat of 'race suicide' loomed large in the outlook of housing reformers as it did in all the social improvement campaigns of the era. It was widely believed that the deplorable health of the working class, most visibly demonstrated in the high failure rates in military medical inspections, and the large-scale 'infiltration' of non-British immigrants would jeopardize the future of the Anglo-Saxon 'race.' One worrying development noted by reformers was the hesitancy of landlords to rent dwellings to families with children. This reluctance was commonly noted by observers of the urban scene and became particularly serious after the war with the housing shortage. It represented a concrete manifestation of the potential conflict of interest between different sections of capital -- industrialists and landlords -- over questions such as the reproduction of the workforce. As one conservative union bureaucrat in Toronto, J.T. Gunn, put it blatantly in 1920, 'Landlords object to children, with the result that we are drifting into race suicide.'
'Race' was a loosely defined term used extensively by social commentators to designate the peculiar social attributes that allegedly derived from the biology or culture of a particular people. In the English-Canadian case, this attitude was largely rooted in a sense of the inherent superiority of British 'stock' and constituted a fundamental element of the social hierarchy. It reflected the ideological legacy of the conquest of French Canada and the Native peoples, the Anglo-chauvinism associated with the international hegemony of the British Empire, and the Eurocentric racism linked to colonialism and slavery. Whether one was an environmentalist who believed that active intervention could uplift the social and moral conditions of the indigent and socially 'misfit' or a hereditarian who envisioned that social problems originated in immutable biological traits, there was a common opinion that the Canadian 'race' could be bettered.
Neither was there disagreement that the physical, mental, and moral state of the race faced grave danger unless prompt action was taken. Early reformers isolated infectious diseases as the main peril because they threatened to overtake the city as a whole. A 1906 editorial in the Toronto Daily News outlined this threat to the 'respectable' classes: 'The Ward constitutes a constant menace to the physical and moral health of the city. It is an open sore from which flow fetid currents which cannot but be corrupting to the whole community.' The metaphor of disease was widely used to depict the slum housing conditions of immigrants and the poor. Dr Charles Hodgetts, head of the Public Health and Housing section of the COC, argued that temporary shack towns on the outskirts of cities were quickly becoming the 'overcrowded permanent homes of a foreign population -- hot beds of parasitic and communicable diseases and breeders of vice and inequity.'
Such bigotry was extended to working-class British and American immigrants as