The Day of Sir Wilfrid Laurier - A Chronicle of Our Own Time
by Oscar D. Skelton
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The Dominion Franchise Act of 1885 was the last important measure which need be noted in this connection. By the British North America Act the Dominion was to adopt the provincial franchise lists for its elections {71} until parliament should order otherwise. Sir John Macdonald decided, after eighteen years' use of the provincial lists and six half-hearted attempts to change this situation, that the Dominion should set up its own standard, in order both to secure uniformity and to preserve the property qualifications which Ontario and the other provinces were throwing overboard. The Opposition contended that this was an attack upon provincial rights. The argument was weak; there could be no doubt of the constitutional power of the Dominion in this matter. Better founded were the attacks of the Opposition upon specific clauses of the measure, such as the proposal to enfranchise Indians living upon government reserves and under government control, and the proposal to put the revision of the lists in the hands of partisan revising barristers rather than of judges. The 'Conservatives' proposed, but did not press the point, to give single women the franchise, and the 'Liberals' opposed it. After months of obstruction the proposal to enfranchise the western Indians was dropped,[2] an appeal to {72} judges was provided for the revision of the lists, and the income and property standards were reduced. Inconsistently, in some provinces a variation from the general standards was permitted. The Franchise Act of 1885 remained in force until after the coming of the Liberals to power in 1896, when it was repealed without regret on either side.

Suddenly the scene shifted, and, instead of the dry and bloodless court battles of constitutional lawyers, the fire and passion of armed rebellion and bitter racial feud held the Canadian stage. The rebellion itself was an {73} affair of but a few brief weeks, but the fires lighted on the Saskatchewan swept through the whole Dominion, and for years the smoke of Duck Lake and Batoche disturbed the public life of Canada.

Long years before the Great West was more than a name to any but a handful in older Canada, hardy French voyageurs and Scottish adventurers had pushed their canoes or driven their Red River carts to the foot of the Rockies and beyond. They had mated with Indian women, and when in 1870 the Dominion came into possession of the great hunting preserve of the Hudson's Bay Company, many of their half-breed children dwelt on the plains. The coming of the railway, the flocking in of settlers, and the rapid dwindling of the vast herds of buffalo which had provided the chief support of the half-breeds, made their nomadic life no longer possible. The economic difficulties of making the needed readjustment, of settling down to quiet farm activities, were heightened by the political difficulties due to the setting up of the new Dominion authority. Then it was on the banks of the Red River that these half-breeds, known as Metis, had risen under the firebrand Riel in armed revolt against the incoming regime. Now, in 1885, {74} it was on the North and South Saskatchewan. There numerous groups of the Metis had made their settlements. And when the Canadian authorities came in to survey the land, to build railways, and to organize government, these people sought to have their rights and privileges accorded them. In Manitoba, after the insurrection of 1870, the dual claims of the old half-breed settlers had been recognized. As part Indian, they had been given scrip for 160 acres each, to extinguish the Indian title to the land, and as part white men, they were each allowed to homestead 160 acres like any other settler. The Metis in the North-West Territories now asked for the same privileges. They wanted also to have their holdings left as they were, long narrow strips of land facing the river front, like the settlements on the St Lawrence, with the houses sociably near in one long village street, rather than to have their land cut up into rectangular, isolated farms under the survey system which the Canadian Government had borrowed from the United States.

The requests were reasonable. Perhaps a narrow logic could have shown inconsistency in the demand to be considered both white and Indian at once, but the Manitoba Act had {75} set a precedent. Only a few thousand acres were at stake, in a boundless land where the Government stood ready to set aside a hundred million acres for a railway. The expediency of winning the goodwill of the half-breeds was apparent to Canadians on the spot, especially now that the Indians, over whom the Metis had great influence, were also becoming restless because of the disappearance of the buffalo and the swarming in of settlers.

Yet the situation was never adequately faced. The Mackenzie Government, in 1877, on the petition of a hundred and fifty Scottish half-breeds at Prince Albert, agreed, where settlement had been effected on the narrow frontage system, to conform the surveys in harmony with this plan, and the Scottish holdings were so confirmed. Two years later the Macdonald Government passed an act authorizing the giving of scrip to the half-breeds of the North-West on the same terms as it had been given to those in Manitoba. So far so good. Then came year upon year of neglect, of clerkly procrastination, and of half-concessions. The French half-breeds passed resolution after resolution, sent to Ottawa petition after petition and delegation after delegation, but in vain. The Government {76} forgot the act which it had itself passed in 1879. Nor were the half-breeds themselves the only petitioners. Time and again Father Andre and other missionaries urged their claims. Some of the Government's own land agents on the spot urged them. Charles Mair of Prince Albert, one of the first of Ontario's settlers in the West, appeared at Ottawa four times before the outbreak, to try to waken the Government to the seriousness of the situation.[3] The North-West Council sent strong memorials backing the requests of the Metis. And still, though some of the grievances were redressed, in piecemeal fashion, no attempt was made to grapple adequately with the difficult questions presented by the meeting {77} of two stages of civilization, to understand the disputes, the real wrongs, the baseless fears. When in 1883 Blake in the House of Commons called for papers, none were brought down for two years; when in 1884 Cameron called for a committee of investigation, the reply was that there was nothing to investigate.

What was the cause of this neglect? At bottom, the Government's ignorance of the West. There was not in the Cabinet a man who knew its conditions and needs. The Metis were two thousand miles away, and they had no votes, for the North-West Territories were not then represented at Ottawa. For five years Sir John Macdonald himself had acted as minister of the Interior. In taking over the cares of a busy department, added to the office of prime minister, he made the mistake that Mackenzie had made. But while Mackenzie put in ten to fourteen hours a day at departmental routine, at the expense of his duties as leader, Macdonald did his work as leader at the expense of his department. 'Old To-Morrow' solved many a problem wisely by leaving it to time to solve, but some problems proved the more serious for every year's delay. Late in 1883 Sir John gave up {78} the portfolio, but his successor, Sir David Macpherson, effected little change. Late in 1885 Thomas White, an energetic and sympathetic administrator, became minister, but the mischief was then already done.

In its defence the Government urged that no half-breed had actually been dispossessed of his river-front claim, and that many who were demanding scrip had already received land in Manitoba. It contended further that the agitation of the half-breeds was fanned by white settlers in Prince Albert, eager to speculate in scrip, and hinted darkly at mysterious forces and personages in the background, in Canada and elsewhere. No attempt was made, however, to prove the truth of these latter charges or to bring the guilty to justice. Doubtless the grievances were not so great as to justify rebellion; the less excuse, then, for not curing what was curable. Doubtless, also, this was not the first time nor the last that a government lacked energy or vision, and had it not been for the other factor in the situation, Louis Riel, no heavy penalty might have followed. But unfortunately, luck or Nemesis, the other factor was very much to the fore.

Wearied of unending delay, the Metis looked {79} again to Riel, then living in exile in Montana. He was the one half-breed with any measure of book-education and knowledge of the vague world beyond the Lakes. Early in the summer of 1884 James Isbester, Gabriel Dumont, Moise Ouellette, and Michel Dumas trudged seven hundred miles to Montana, and laid their case before him. He needed little urging. The call appealed strongly to his erratic ambition. His term of banishment had expired, and he hastened to the Saskatchewan to organize the Metis. Still the Government did not stir, though it knew the reckless daring of Riel and the influence he wielded. Riel at once set to work to fan the discontent into flame. Though the English-speaking half-breeds drew back, he soon gained remarkable ascendancy over his French-speaking compatriots. He preached a new religion, with himself as prophet, threatened to dethrone the Pope, and denounced the local priests who resisted his campaign. He held meeting after meeting, drew up an extravagant Bill of Rights, and endeavoured to enlist the support of the Indian tribes. Still all the Government did was to send, in January 1885, a commission to take the census of the half-breeds, preparatory to settling their claims. Yet, {80} speaking in the House of Commons, on March 26, 1885, Sir John Macdonald made it clear that the half-breeds could not get both Indian scrip and white man's homestead. On the very day that this refusal was reiterated the first shot had been fired at Duck Lake, where a superior force of insurgents under Riel and Dumont routed a party of Mounted Police and volunteers, killing twelve, and seized the supplies in the government post. Open rebellion had come for a second time.

Now at last the Government acted with energy. On the 6th of April, ten days after Duck Lake, instructions were telegraphed from Ottawa to give the half-breeds the scrip they had sought, and to allow occupants to acquire title by possession. At the same time troops were hastily mobilized and speeded west over the broken stretches of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The young volunteers faced danger and hardship like veterans. In spite of the skilful tactics of Riel's lieutenant, Gabriel Dumont, a born general, the volunteers soon crushed the half-breeds and prevented the much more serious danger of an Indian uprising from going far.

Once the back of the revolt was broken, the storm broke out in Eastern Canada. In one {81} way the rebellion had made for national unity. Nova Scotia and Ontario and the West had thrilled in common suspense and common endeavour. But this gain was much more than offset by the bitter antagonism which developed between Ontario and Quebec, an antagonism which for a time threatened to wreck the Dominion. The two provinces saw different sides of the shield. Ontario saw the murderer of Thomas Scott—an Ontario man and an Orangeman—a second time stirring up revolt, and cried for summary punishment. Quebec saw the grievances which had stirred the men of French blood to rebel. Riel was tried in Regina in September, and found guilty of treason, with a recommendation to mercy. The Queen's Bench of Manitoba confirmed the verdict, and the Government, in spite of many protests, refused to grant a pardon or to commute the sentence to imprisonment. On the 16th of November 1885 Riel's chequered existence ended on the scaffold at Regina.

Now the storm raged with renewed fury. The Liberal party all held the Government responsible for the outbreak, but were not a unit in condemning the execution of Riel. By clever tactics the Government took advantage of this divergence. Early in the session {82} of 1886 a Quebec Conservative, Auguste Philippe Landry, moved a resolution condemning the execution. The Liberals had intended to shift the discussion to the record of the Government, but before they could propose an amendment, the minister of Public Works, Hector Langevin, moved the previous question, thus barring any further motion. Forced to vote on Landry's resolution, most of the Ontario Liberals, including Mackenzie and Cartwright, sided with the Government; Blake and Laurier took the other side.

The crisis brought Wilfrid Laurier to the front. Hitherto he had been considered, especially in Ontario, as a man of brilliant promise, but not yet of the stature of veterans like Blake and Mackenzie and Cartwright. But now an occasion had come which summoned all his latent powers, and henceforth his place in the first rank was unquestioned. It was an issue peculiarly fitted to bring out his deepest feelings, his passion for liberty and straightforward justice, his keen realization of the need of harmony between French and English, a harmony that must be rooted in sympathy and understanding. He had faced a hostile Quebec, and was to face it again, in defence of the rights of the English-speaking {83} provinces. Now he faced a hostile Ontario, and told Toronto exactly what he told Montreal. In the great meeting of protest which was held in the Champ de Mars in Montreal on the Sunday after Riel's execution, Mr Laurier took a leading part, and a year later he spoke before a great audience in Toronto and pressed home the case against the Government—that 'the half-breeds were denied for long years right and justice, rights which were admitted as soon as they were asked by bullets.'

But it was in the House of Commons that he rose to the full height of the theme and of his powers. Seconding Blake's indictment of the Government in July 1885, and replying to Sir John Macdonald, he analysed mercilessly the long record of neglect. Then, replying to the contention that the grievances were petty and that Riel alone was to blame, he made a pointed contrast:

Few men have there been anywhere who have wielded greater sway over their fellow countrymen than did Mr Papineau at a certain time in the history of Lower Canada, and no man ever lived who had been more profusely endowed by nature to be the idol of a nation. A man of commanding presence, of majestic countenance, of impassioned eloquence, of {84} unblemished character, of pure, disinterested patriotism, for years he held over the hearts of his fellow countrymen almost unbounded sway, and even to this day the mention of his name will arouse throughout the length and breadth of Lower Canada a thrill of enthusiasm in the breasts of all, men or women, old or young. What was the secret of that great power he held at one time? Was it simply his eloquence, his commanding intellect, his pure patriotism? No doubt they all contributed, but the main cause of his authority over his fellow countrymen was this, that at that time his fellow countrymen were an oppressed race, and he was the champion of their cause. But when the day of relief came, the influence of Mr Papineau, however great it might have been and however great it still remained, ceased to be paramount. When eventually the Union Act was carried, Papineau violently assailed it, showed all its defects, deficiencies and dangers, and yet he could not rouse his followers and the people to agitate for the repeal of that Act. What was the reason? The conditions were no more the same. Imperfect as was the Union Act, it still gave a measure of freedom and justice to the people, and men who once at the mere sound of Mr Papineau's voice would have gladly courted death on battle-field or scaffold, then stood silent and irresponsive, though he asked from them nothing more than a constitutional agitation for a repeal of the Union Act. Conditions were no more the same. Tyranny and oppression had made rebels of the people of Lower Canada, while justice and freedom made {85} them the true and loyal subjects which they have been ever since. And now to tell us that Louis Riel, simply by his influence, could bring those men from peace to war, to tell us that they had no grievances, to tell us that they were brought into a state of rebellion either through pure malice or through imbecile adherence to an adventurer, is an insult to the intelligence of the people at large, and an unjust aspersion on the people of the Saskatchewan.

When the debate on the Landry motion came on in the following session, Laurier and Blake again shared the honours, along with the new minister of Justice, John S. D. Thompson, who spoke forcefully for the Government. Mr Laurier's speech on this occasion was perhaps the greatest of his career, and made a profound impression. He was called upon to speak unexpectedly, late at night, through the tactics of the Government in not putting up a speaker. Two dull speeches had nearly emptied the House. No one rose to follow, and the speaker had asked whether the question should be put, when Mr Laurier rose. The House filled quickly, and for two hours he held it breathless, so that not a sound but the orator's ringing voice and the ticking of the clock could be heard in the chamber. When he sat down, the opinion of {86} the House was unanimous that this was one of the rare occasions of a parliamentary lifetime. Thomas White generously voiced the feeling of the Government benches when he declared: 'I think it is a matter of common pride to us that any man in Canada can make, on the floor of parliament, such a speech as we listened to last night.' Edward Blake declared the speech was 'the crowning proof of French domination. My honourable friend, not content with having for a long time in his own tongue borne away the palm of parliamentary eloquence, has invaded ours, and in that field has pronounced a speech, which, in my humble judgment, merits this compliment, because it is the truth, that it was the finest parliamentary speech ever pronounced in the parliament of Canada since Confederation.'

Blake and Laurier differed in their view of the tactics to be followed by the Opposition. Mr Blake wished to throw the chief emphasis upon the question of Riel's insanity, leaving aside the thorny question of the division of responsibility. Mr Laurier wanted to go further. While equally convinced that Riel was insane, he thought that the main effort of the Opposition should be to divert attention from Riel's sorry figure and concentrate it on {87} the question of the Government's neglect. Accordingly in this speech Mr Laurier reviewed once more the conduct of the Government, arraigning it unsparingly for its common share in the guilt of the rebellion. He denied that the people of Quebec were demanding that no French Canadian should be punished, guilty or not guilty. As for Riel, who shared with the Government the responsibility for the blood and sufferings of the revolt, he urged, with Blake, that it was impossible to consider him sane and accountable for his actions. 'Sir,' he declared, 'I am not one of those who look upon Louis Riel as a hero. Nature had endowed him with many brilliant qualities, but nature had denied him that supreme quality without which all other qualities, however brilliant, are of no avail. Nature had denied him a well-balanced mind. At his worst he was a fit subject for an asylum, at his best he was a religious and political monomaniac.' True, some of the Government's experts had reported that, while insane on religious questions, Riel was otherwise accountable for his actions, but other experts had held him insane without qualification. In any event, the same experts for the Government had declared that Riel's secretary, an {88} English half-breed, William Jackson, was insane on religious questions, and dazed at times, but that 'his actions were not uncontrollable'; yet Quebec bitterly reflected that one of these men had been acquitted, sent to an asylum and then allowed to escape, while the other was sent to the gallows. 'Jackson is free to-day, and Riel is in his grave.'[4]

On wider grounds the Government should have stood for clemency. Who was right in the United States after the Civil War—President Johnson, who wished to try Lee for treason, or General Grant, who insisted that he be not touched? Twenty years after, the unity of North and South proves unmistakably Grant's far-seeing wisdom. 'We cannot make a nation of this new country by shedding blood,' Mr Laurier concluded. 'Our prisons are full of men, who, despairing of getting justice by peace, sought it by war, who, despairing of ever being treated like freemen, {89} took their lives in their hands rather than be treated as slaves. They have suffered greatly, they are suffering still, yet their sacrifice will not be without reward.... They are in durance to-day, but the rights for which they were fighting have been acknowledged. We have not the report of the commission yet, but we know that more than two thousand claims so long denied have at last been granted. And more—still more: we have it in the Speech from the Throne that at last representation is to be granted to those Territories. This side of the House long sought, but sought in vain, to obtain that measure of justice. It could not come then, but it came after the war; it came as the last conquest of that insurrection. And again I say that "their country has conquered with their martyrdom," and if we look at that one fact alone there was cause sufficient, independent of all other, to extend mercy to the one who is dead and to those who live.'

In parliament, for all the eloquence of Laurier and Blake, the Government had its way. In the country the controversy raged in more serious fashion. In Quebec Honore Mercier, the brilliant, tempestuous leader of the Liberals, carried on a violent agitation, {90} and in January 1887 rode the whirlwind into power. Wild and bitter words were many in the contest, and they found more than an answer in Ontario, where the leading ministerial organ, the Mail, declared it better to 'smash Confederation into its original fragments' rather than yield to French dictation.

The general elections, held in February 1887, proved that in Ontario the guilt of Riel was more to the fore than the misdeeds of the Government, and the Conservatives lost only two seats. On the other hand, the Liberals gained less in Quebec in the Dominion contest, where the Riel question was a legitimate issue, than in the provincial contest, where it properly had no place. The influence of the Church, though now transferred to Mercier in provincial politics, remained on the side of Sir John Macdonald in Dominion politics. Counting on the Liberal side the former Conservatives who had deserted the Government, the returns showed the province about equally divided; but after it was seen that Sir John was again in power, several of the wanderers returned to his fold, influenced by his personal ascendancy or by the loaves and fishes of patronage and office.

[1] See The Railway Builders, chap. viii.

[2] Indians in the eastern provinces, however, were given a vote. This gave rise to one of the most artful, yet amusingly simple, electioneering documents on record. In the Haldimand, Ontario, election of 1891 the Conservative candidate, Dr W. H. Montague, afterwards minister of Agriculture, had the following circular distributed on the Indian Reserve, with the royal coat of arms at the top:


To the Indians: The Queen has always loved her dear loyal subjects, the Indians. She wants them to be good men and women, and she wants them to live on the land that they have, and she expects in a little while, if her great chief John A. gets into government again, to be very kind to the Indians and to make them very happy. She wants them to go and vote and all to vote for Dr Montague, who is the Queen's agent. He is their friend, and by voting for him every one of the Indians will please


Liberal (or rather Conservative) supplies of fire-water effectively backed up this touching appeal of 'the Queen.'

[3] Mair made his last appeal but one in April 1884. Finding it impossible to rouse the Government, he returned to Prince Albert and brought his family back to Ontario, out of the way of the inevitable rebellion. A final visit to Ottawa in December was equally futile. Of the April attempt Lieut.-Colonel George T. Denison writes: 'When he returned to Toronto from Ottawa he told me most positively that there would be a rebellion, that the officials were absolutely indifferent and immovable, and I could not help laughing at the picture he gave me of Sir David Macpherson, a very large, handsome, erect man of six feet four inches, getting up, leaving his room, and walking away down the corridor, while Mair, a short stout man, had almost to run alongside of him, as he made his final appeal to preserve the peace and prevent bloodshed.'—Soldiering in Canada, p. 263.

[4] 'When one considers the mass of testimony pointing to Riel's mental defect—paranoia—the undoubted history of insanity from boyhood, with the recurring paroxysms of intense excitement, he wonders that there could have been the slightest discussion regarding it.'—'A Critical Study of the Case of Louis Riel,' Queen's Quarterly, April-July, 1905, by C. K. Clarke, M.D., Superintendent of Rockwood Asylum (now Superintendent, Toronto General Hospital).




Dark days—Sectional discontent—Railway monopoly—Exodus and stagnation

The outcome of the elections was an intense disappointment to Edward Blake. His health, too, was failing, and this increased his despondency. He decided to give over to other hands the leadership of his party. Early in June 1887, two months after the new parliament assembled, he definitely and firmly refused to hold the post longer.

Who was to succeed him? For the moment the leadership was put into commission, a committee of eight being nominated to tide matters over. The Ontario Liberals had always been the backbone of the party, and among them Sir Richard Cartwright and David Mills stood pre-eminent in experience and ability. Yet it was neither of these veterans whom Mr Blake recommended to the party 'caucus' as his successor, but Wilfrid Laurier; and on the motion of Sir Richard Cartwright, seconded by Mr Mills, Mr Laurier was unanimously chosen as the new chieftain.


It was with much difficulty that Mr Laurier was induced to accept the leadership. On both personal and political grounds he hesitated. He had his share of ambition, but he had never looked for more than success in his profession and a place in politics below the highest. It was not that he underestimated the greatness of the honour; on the contrary, it was his high sense of the responsibilities of the post that gave him pause. He was not of strong physique, and he knew that the work meant ceaseless strain and pressure. Though his profession now gave him an ample income, he was not a rich man, and much if not most of his law practice would have to be abandoned if he became leader;[1] and parliament had not yet awakened to the need of paying the leader of the Opposition a salary.

On political grounds he was still more in doubt. Would Canada, would the one-time party of George Brown, welcome a leader from the minority? The fires of sectional passion were still raging. In Ontario he would be opposed as a French Canadian and a Catholic, the resolute opponent of the Government on the Riel question. And though it might be {93} urged that the pendulum was swinging toward the Liberals in Quebec, while in Ontario they were making little ground, the irony of the situation was such that in Quebec he was regarded with suspicion, if not with open hostility, by the most powerful and aggressive leaders of the Church.

Yet the place he had won in parliament and in the party was undeniable. His colleagues believed that he had the ability to lead them out of the wilderness, and for their faith he accepted. At first he insisted that his acceptance should be tentative, for the session only; but by the time the session ended the party would not be denied, and his definite succession to the leadership was announced.

The Canada of 1887, in which Wilfrid Laurier thus came to high and responsible position, was a Canada very different from the land of promise familiar to young Canadians of the present generation. It was a Canada seething with restlessness and discontent. The high hopes of the Fathers of Confederation had turned to ashes. On every hand men were saying that federation had failed, that the new nation of their dream had remained a dream.


At Confederation men had hoped that the Dominion would take high place in the Empire and among the nations of the world. Yet, twenty years later, Canada remained unappreciated and unknown. In Great Britain she was considered a colony which had ceased to fulfil the principal functions of the traditional colony, and which would probably some day go the way of all colonies: in the meantime the country was simply ignored, alike in official and in private circles. In the United States, in those quarters where Canada was given a thought at all, curious misconceptions existed of her subordination to Great Britain, of her hopelessly Arctic climate, and of her inevitable drift into the arms of the Republic. Elsewhere abroad, Canada was an Ultima Thule, a barren land of ice and snow, about as interesting and important as Kamchatka and Tierra del Fuego, and other outlying odds and ends of the earth which one came across in the atlas but never thought of otherwise.

Twenty years earlier glowing pictures had been painted of the new heights of honour and of usefulness which the new Dominion would afford its statesmen. The hard reality was the Canada of gerrymanders and political {95} trickery, of Red Parlor funds and electoral bribery. The canker affected not one party alone, as the fall of Mercier was soon to show. The whole political life of the country to sank low and stagnant levels, for it appeared that the people had openly condoned corruption in high places, and that lavish promises and the 'glad hand' were a surer road to success than honest and efficient administration.

Sectional discontent prevailed. That the federation would be smashed 'into its original fragments' seemed not beyond possibility. We have seen that a racial and religious feud rent Ontario and Quebec. Nova Scotia strained at the leash. Her people had never forgotten nor forgiven the way in which they had been forced into Confederation. 'Better terms' had failed to bribe them into fellowship. A high tariff restricted their liberty in buying, and the home markets promised in compensation had not developed. In the preceding year the provincial legislature had expressed the prevalent discontent by flatly demanding the repeal of the union.

Manitoba chafed under a thirty-five per cent tariff on farm implements, and complained of the retention by the Dominion of the vacant lands in the province. And her {96} grievances in respect to transportation would not down. The Canadian Pacific Railway had given the much desired connection with the East and had brought tens of thousands of settlers to the province, but it had not brought abiding prosperity or content. The through rate on wheat from Winnipeg to Montreal was ten cents a bushel more than from St Paul to New York, an equal distance; and, from the farm to Liverpool, the Minnesota farmer had fifteen cents a bushel the advantage of his Manitoba neighbour. Local rates were still heavier. 'Coal and lumber and general merchandise cost from two to four times as much to ship as for equal distances in the eastern provinces.'[2]

Why not bring in competition? Because the Dominion Government blocked the way by its veto power. In the contract with the Canadian Pacific Syndicate a clause provided that for twenty years the Dominion would not authorize a competing road between the company's main line and the United States border running south or southeast or within fifteen miles of the boundary; it was provided also that in the formation of any new provinces to {97} the west such provinces should be required to observe the same restriction. It was urged by the railway authorities that foreign investors had demanded a monopoly as the price of capital, and that without the assurance of such a monopoly the costly link to the north of Lake Superior could never have been built. The terms of the contract did not bar Manitoba from chartering railways: the Dominion had indeed no power to forbid it in advance, and it was explicitly stated by Sir John Macdonald at the time that Manitoba was not affected. Yet when Manitoba sought to charter one railway after another, the Dominion disallowed every act and repeatedly declared that it would use its veto power to compel Manitoba to trade with the East and by the Canadian Pacific Railway. A more effective means of stirring up ill-feeling between East and West and of discouraging immigration to the prairies could hardly have been devised.

Against these conditions Manitoba protested as one man. The Winnipeg Board of Trade denounced the policy of 'crushing and trampling upon one hundred thousand struggling pioneers of this prairie province to secure a purely imaginary financial gain to one soulless corporation.' Every Conservative candidate {98} for the House of Commons in the province pledged himself to vote for a motion of want of confidence if the Macdonald Government persisted in its course. The Conservative administration of the province was overthrown because it did not go fast or far enough in the fight. At last, in 1888, Ottawa gave way and bought off the Canadian Pacific by a guarantee of bonds for new extensions. After some further negotiations the Northern Pacific was brought into Canada; and if this did not work all the miracles of cheap rates that had been expected, Manitoba at least knew now that her ills were those which had been imposed by nature and geography and not by her sister provinces.

It was not only in Manitoba that economic depression prevailed, though nowhere else were the grievances so concrete and so irritating. Throughout the Dominion the brief gleam of prosperity which dawned with the eighties had vanished. After the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway stagnation was everywhere the rule. Foreign trade, which had reached a total of $217,000,000 in 1873, was only $230,000,000 in 1883 and $247,000,000 in 1893; these were, however, years of falling prices. Bank discounts, the {99} number of tons of freight moved, and other records of general business activity showed creeping progress and sometimes actual falling back. Homestead entries had risen to nearly seventy-five hundred in 1882, when the construction of the Canadian Pacific was bringing on the first western boom, but a great part of these had been cancelled, and up to the middle nineties entries averaged fewer than three thousand a year in the whole vast West.

The movement of population bore the same melancholy witness. Even the West, Manitoba and the North-West Territories, grew only from 180,000 in 1881 in 250,000 in 1891, whereas Dakota alone grew from 135,000 to 510,000 in the same period. The Dominion as a whole increased at less than half the rate of the United States, and Sir Richard Cartwright had little difficulty in establishing the alarming fact that in recent years one out of every four of the native-born of Canada had been compelled to seek a home in the Republic, and that three out of every four immigrants to Canada had followed the same well-beaten trail. There were in 1890 more than one-third as many people of Canadian birth and descent in the United States as in Canada itself. Never in the world's history, save in {100} the case of crowded, famine-stricken, misgoverned Ireland, had there been such a leakage of the brain and brawn of any country.

Perhaps no incident reveals more clearly the stagnation and lack of constructive courage of this period than the break-down of the negotiations carried on in 1895 for the entrance of Newfoundland, then still more nearly bankrupt, into Confederation, because of the unwillingness of the Canadian Government to meet the financial terms Newfoundland demanded. For the sake of a difference of fifty thousand dollars a year the chance to round out the Dominion was let slip, perhaps never to recur. Ten years later fifty thousand a year looked small. To each generation the defects of its qualities; in one prudence degenerates into parsimony, in another courage runs wild in extravagance.

[1] After 1887 he rarely, and after 1892 never, appeared in court.

[2] Plain Facts regarding the Disallowance of Manitoba Railway Charters, by the Winnipeg Board of Trade.




Canada and the States—The fisheries dispute—Political union—Commercial union—Unrestricted reciprocity—Jesuits' estates—Unrestricted reciprocity

For desperate ills, desperate remedies. It is little wonder that policies looking to revolutionary change in political or commercial relations now came to take strong hold on the public mind. To many it appeared that the experiment in Canadian nationality had failed. Why not, then, frankly admit the failure and seek full political incorporation with either of the great centres of the English-speaking people, of whose political prestige and commercial success there was no question? Annexation to the United States, Imperial Federation, with a central parliament in the United Kingdom, each found a small but earnest company of supporters. Or, if the mass of the people shrank from one and held the other an impracticable dream, why not seek the closest possible commercial tie with either nation? Thus Commercial Union, or a zollverein between Canada and the United {102} States, and Imperial Preferential Trade, or a zollverein between Canada and the United Kingdom and the other parts of the British Empire, came into discussion. What British and American conditions and opinion met these Canadian movements, and what changes were made in the programmes first urged, may next be reviewed. Canadian relations with the United States will be noted first.

In the decade from 1886 to 1896, when the Venezuela episode opened a valve for the steam to blow off, the relations between Canada and the United States were continuously at high tension. It was an era of friction and pinpricks, of bluster and retaliation. The United States was not in a conciliatory mood. It was growing in wealth and numbers and power, in unprecedented ways. Its people were one and all intensely proud of their country and satisfied with themselves. The muckraker had not yet lifted his voice in the land. The millionaire was still an object of pride and emulation, Exhibit A in the display of American superiority over all creation. No foreign danger threatened, no foreign responsibility restrained the provincial swagger. In short, the United States was 'feeling its oats.'


Towards Great Britain it was specially prone to take an aggressive attitude. Still fresh was the memory of 1776 and 1812, fed by text-book rhetoric and thrown into relief by the absence of other foes. Still rankled the hostility of the official classes of Great Britain during the Civil War and Tory attacks upon American manners and American democracy. Irish-Americans in millions cherished a natural if sometimes foolishly directed hatred against the country that had misgoverned Erin and made it lose half its people. The rejection of Home Rule by the House of Commons in 1886, confirmed by the results of the general elections which followed, intensified this feeling. Canada, the nearest British territory, had to bear much of this ill-will, though she had no share of responsibility for its creation, just as she had borne the brunt of invasion in wars which were none of her making.

There were, however, other sources of trouble for which Canada was more directly responsible. She had followed the example of the United States in setting up a high tariff wall. Inevitably the adoption of protection by both countries led to friction. The spirit of which it was born and which in turn it {104} nourished, the belief that one country found its gain in another's loss, made for jealousy, and the rankling sense on Canada's part that her policy had not succeeded made the feeling the sorer.

But the immediate occasion of the most serious difficulty was the revival of the northeastern fisheries dispute. The century-long conflict as to the privileges of American fishermen in Canadian and Newfoundland waters, under the Treaty of 1783 and the Convention of 1818, had been set at rest during the era of Reciprocity (1854-66) by opening Canadian fishing-grounds to Americans, practically in return for free admission of Canadian natural products to the United States. Then once more, by the Treaty of Washington in 1871, access to the inshore fisheries was bartered for free admission of fish and fish-oil plus a money compensation to be determined by a commission. The commission met at Halifax in 1877, Sir A. T. Galt representing Canada, and the award was set at $5,500,000 for the twelve years during which the treaty was to last. The United States condemned the award with much heat, and took occasion to abrogate the clause of the treaty on the earliest date for which notice could be given, July 1, 1885. {105} For that season the fishing privileges were extended, but with the next year the whole dispute revived. The Canadian authorities insisted on restricting American fishermen rigidly to the letter of treaty privileges as Canada interpreted them. American fishing vessels were not only barred from fishing within the three-mile limit but were forbidden to enter a Canadian port to ship cargoes or for any other purpose, save for shelter, wood, water, or repairs. Several American boats were seized and condemned; and Canadian fishery cruisers patrolled the coasts, incessantly active. A storm of genuine if not informed indignation broke out in the United States. The action of the Canadian authorities was denounced as unneighbourly and their insistence on the letter of ancient treaties as pettifogging; and, with more justice, it was declared that the Canadian Government used the fishing privileges as a lever, or rather a club, to force the opening of the United States markets to all Canadian products.

President Cleveland sought a friendly solution by the appointment of a joint commission. Congress, more bellicose, passed unanimously (1887) a Retaliatory Act, empowering the president, if satisfied that American vessels {106} were illegally or vexatiously harassed or restricted, to close the ports and waters of the United States against the vessels and products of any part of British North America. The president declined to fire this blunderbuss, and arranged for the commission on which Joseph Chamberlain, Sir Lionel Sackville-West, and Sir Charles Tupper were the British representatives. The draft treaty which the commission framed failed to pass the United States Senate, but a modus vivendi was arranged permitting American vessels port privileges upon payment of a licence fee. This, together with more considerate conduct on both sides, eased the tension.

Once Congress had taken the drastic step of threatening complete non-intercourse With Canada, a reaction set in, and many Americans began to consider whether some more pacific and thoroughgoing solution could not be found. Two were suggested, political union and commercial union.

The political union of the two democracies of the continent has always found advocates. In the United States many believed it was 'manifest destiny' that some day the Stars and Stripes should float from Panama to the Pole. At times Canadians here and there {107} had echoed this belief. It seemed to them better to be annexed at one stroke than to be annexed piecemeal by exodus, at the rate of fifty or a hundred thousand Canadians a year. In St John and Halifax, in Montreal and Toronto, and on the Detroit border, a few voices now called for this remedy, which promised to give commercial prosperity and political security instead of commercial depression and sectional, racial, and religious strife. Yet they remained voices crying in the wilderness. As in 1849, when men of high rank in the Conservative party—notably three,[1] who are known in history as colleagues of Sir John Macdonald and one of them as prime minister of Canada—had joined with Quebec Rouges in prescribing the same remedy for Canada's ills, so now, in the late eighties, the deep instinct of the overwhelming mass of the people revolted from a step which meant renouncing the memories of the past and the hopes of the future. Imperial and national sentiment both fought against it. It was in vain that Goldwin Smith gave his life to the cause, preaching the example of the union between Scotland and England. It {108} was in vain that British statesmen had shown themselves not averse to the idea. In 1869, when Senator Sumner proposed the cession of Canada in settlement of the Alabama claims, and Hamilton Fish, the American secretary of state, declared to the British ambassador that 'our claims were too large to be settled pecuniarily and sounded him about Canada,' the ambassador had replied that 'England did not wish to keep Canada, but could not part with it without the consent of the population.'[2] Wanted or not, the people of Canada had determined to stay in the Empire; and did stay until different counsels reigned in London. Even in cold-blooded and objective logic, Canada's refusal to merge her destinies with the Republic could be justified as best for the world, in that it made possible in North America two experiments in democracy; possible, too, the transformation of the British Empire into the most remarkable and hopeful of political combinations. But it was not such reasoned logic that prompted Canadians. They were moved by deeper instincts, prejudices, passions, hopes, loyalties. And in face of their practically solid opposition the solution of the 'Canadian Question' had to {109} be sought elsewhere than in political union with the United States.

Commercial union, or a zollverein between Canada and the United States, involved absolute free trade between the two countries, common excise rates, a common customs tariff on the seaboard, and the pooling and dividing according to population of the revenue. This was not a new proposal; it had been suggested time and again in both countries, from its advocacy by Ira Gould of Montreal in 1852 down to its advocacy by Wharton Barker of Philadelphia—a strong opponent of reciprocity—in 1886. But now, for the first time, the conjuncture of political and economic conditions on both sides of the line ensured it serious attention; and, for the first time, in Erastus Wiman, one of the many Canadians who had won fortune in the United States, the movement found an enthusiastic and unflagging leader. In 1887 Congressman Butterworth introduced a bill providing for free entrance of all Canadian products into the United States whenever Canada permitted the free entrance of all American products, and received a notable measure of support. In Ontario, under the leadership of Erastus Wiman and Goldwin Smith and Valencay {110} Fuller, the latter a leading stock breeder, the movement won remarkably quick and widespread recognition: in a few months it had been endorsed by over forty Farmers' Institutes and rejected by only three. Much of this success was due to the powerful and persistent advocacy of leading Toronto and Montreal newspapers. Needless to say, the movement met with instant and vigorous opposition from the majority of the manufacturers and from the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The movement had begun entirely outside the ordinary party lines, but its strength soon compelled the party leaders to take a stand for or against it. Neither party endorsed it, though both went far towards it. The Conservatives had long been in favour of a measure of free trade with the United States. The National Policy had been adopted partly in the hope that 'reciprocity in tariffs' would compel the United States to assent to 'reciprocity in trade,' and many who, like Goldwin Smith, had voted for protection in 1878, now called upon the Government to follow its own logic. But commercial union, with its discrimination against Great Britain and its joint tariffs made at Washington, did not appeal to Sir John Macdonald and his {111} following. They were, however, prepared to go far. More than half the time of the Fisheries Commission of 1887, which sat for three months, was spent on tariff matters; and Sir Charles Tupper made the most thoroughgoing offer of free trade with the United States ever made by any Canadian Government—'an unrestricted offer of reciprocity.' Congress, however, would not consent to discuss trade under pressure of fishery threats, and no terms were made.

The Liberal party was equally uncertain as to its policy. It was much more strongly in favour of freer trade than its opponents, and being in opposition, would be more likely to take up a policy opposed to the status quo. Sir Richard Cartwright in October 1887 came out clearly in favour of commercial union. What of the new leader of the party?

Mr Laurier's first public address after his election to the leadership was given at Somerset, Quebec, in August 1887. After reviewing the deplorable discontent which pervaded the Dominion, due mainly to the Government's policy, he referred to the trade issue. The restriction policy practised for a decade had led to a reaction, he declared, 'which has not stopped within moderate {112} bounds; on the contrary, it has gone to extremes, and at this very hour the great majority of the farmers of Ontario are clamoring for commercial union with the United States.... For my part, I am not ready to declare that commercial union is an acceptable idea.' The root of the commercial union movement, he continued, was the desire for reciprocity with the United States in some form, and to that policy the Liberal party had always been, and still remained, favourable.

In the following session the Liberal party made clear its position on the question. It definitely rejected by a large majority the proposal for commercial union. Adopting a suggestion of Mr J. D. Edgar, it advocated reopening negotiations with Washington to secure full and unrestricted reciprocity of trade. Under this policy, if carried to its full extent, all the products of each country would enter the other free, but each would continue in control of its own tariff, and the customhouses along the border would also remain. Sir Richard Cartwright opened the debate with a vivid summary of the backward and distracted condition of Canada, and of the commercial advantages of free access to the large, wealthy, and convenient market to the south. {113} He concluded with a strong appeal to Canada to act as a link between Great Britain and the United States, and thus secure for the mother country the ally she needed in her dangerous isolation. Mr Laurier followed some days later. He emphasized the need of wider markets, of a population of consumers that would permit large-scaled industry to develop, and contended that any manufacturing industries which deserved to survive would thrive in the larger field. The same terms could not be offered England, for England had not a tariff in which to make reciprocal reductions. Canada would not always be a colony; what she wanted, however, was not political independence, but commercial independence. The opponents of the proposal had appealed to the country's fears; he appealed to its courage, and exhorted all to press onward till the goal should be reached.

In parliament the discussion led to little result. The Government took its stand against unrestricted reciprocity, on the ground that it would kill infant manufacturing industries and lead to political absorption in the Republic, and the division followed party lines. Meanwhile in the country interest slackened, for the time. In the presidential {114} campaign of 1888 the Republicans, by a narrow margin, won on a high-tariff platform, so that reciprocity seemed out of the question. In Canada itself a new issue had arisen. Once more race and religion set Quebec and Ontario in fierce antagonism.

The Jesuits, or members of the Society of Jesus, do not now for the first time appear in the history of Canada. In the days of New France they had been its most intrepid explorers, its most undaunted missionaries. 'Not a cape was turned, not a river was entered,' declares Bancroft, 'but a Jesuit led the way.' With splendid heroism they suffered for the greater glory of God the unspeakable horrors of Indian torture and martyrdom. But in the Old World their abounding zeal often led them into conflict with the civil authorities, and they became unpopular, alike in Catholic and in Protestant countries. So it happened that 'for the peace of the Church' the Pope suppressed the Society in 1773, and it remained dormant for forty years. After the Conquest of Canada it was decreed that the Jesuits then in the country should be permitted to remain and die there, but that they must not add to their {115} numbers, and that their estates should be confiscated to the Crown. Lord Amherst, the British commander-in-chief, made an unsuccessful attempt to have these estates granted to himself; but in the Crown's possession they remained, and fell to the province of Quebec at Confederation. This settlement had never been accepted. The bishops contended that the Jesuits' estates should have been returned to the Church, and the Jesuits, who had come back to Canada in 1842, asserted their own rights to their ancient lands. Thus the thorny question as to what disposition should be made of these lands baffled the provincial authorities until 1888, when Honore Mercier, himself a pupil of the Jesuits, and now a most aggressively faithful son of the Church, grappled with the problem, and passed an act embodying a compromise which had been found acceptable by all parties concerned. The sum of $400,000 was to be paid in satisfaction of all claims, to be divided among the Jesuits, the Church authorities, and Laval University, in proportions to be determined by the Pope. At the same time $60,000 was voted to Protestant schools to satisfy their demands.

In Quebec the measure was accepted with little discussion. All the Protestant members {116} in the legislature voted for it. But in Ontario the heather was soon on fire. It was not merely that the dispossessed Jesuits, whom some Protestants regarded as the very symbol and quintessence of clerical intrigue, were thus compensated by the state, but that the sanction of the Pope had been invoked to give effect to an act of a British legislature. The Protestant war-chiefs, D'Alton M'Carthy, Colonel O'Brien, and John Charlton, took up the tomahawk, and called on the Dominion Government to disallow the act. But Sir John Macdonald declined to intervene. A resolution in the House of Commons calling for disallowance was defeated by 188 to 13, the minority being chiefly Conservatives from Ontario.

In opposing the resolution Mr Laurier congratulated the Government on its tardy conversion from the vicious doctrine of centralization. The revolt of its followers from Ontario was the inevitable retribution due to a party which had pandered to religious prejudices in both provinces—due to 'that party with a rigid Protestant face turning towards the west and a devout Catholic face turning towards the east'; and which at the same time had proclaimed the right to disallow any provincial {117} act. He did not, however, base his position solely on the plea of provincial rights. In itself the legislation was just and expedient, a reasonable compromise between seriously conflicting claims. Nor would he listen to those who called upon the Liberals to emulate the Liberals of continental Europe in their anti-clerical campaigns. He preferred to take tolerant Britain as his model rather than intolerant France or Germany. Once more he declared, as he had declared in Quebec twelve years before, that he was a Liberal of the English school, not of the French.

Outvoted in parliament, the champions of militant Protestantism found strong support in the country. An Equal Rights Association was formed to resist the danger of Catholic domination which many believed imminent. It had less influence in the politics of the Dominion than in the politics of Ontario, where Oliver Mowat was solemnly accused of having conspired with Honore Mercier to raise the Jesuits to power. It contained many able and sincere men, yet its influence soon ceased. By 1894 its place was taken by the Protestant Protective Association, or P.P.A., a boycotting organization imported from the United States, which had a deservedly short {118} life. But, while the fires burned low in the East, the torch had been passed on to the far West—from D'Alton M'Carthy to Joseph Martin. Of the conflagration which ensued we shall learn in a later chapter.

Men will sometimes pray, or may try to prevent others from praying as they list; but they must always eat. The pendulum of public interest swung back to trade relations with the United States. Depression still pervaded farming and manufacturing centres alike, though the abandonment of the policy of federal coercion had lessened political discontent. The return of the Republicans to power in 1888, it has been seen, appeared to put freer trade relations out of the question. The M'Kinley tariff of 1890 slammed the door in Canada's face, for in order to delude the American farmer into believing that protection was in his interest, this tariff imposed high and often prohibitive duties on farm products.

Should Canada retaliate, or make still another effort at a reasonable arrangement with its unneighbourly neighbour? The possibility of adjustment was not as remote as might have seemed probable. After all, reciprocity is as much a protective as a {119} free-trade doctrine, since, as usually interpreted, it implies that the reduction in duties is a detriment to the country making it, only to be balanced by the greater privilege secured at the expense of the other's home market. James G. Blaine, secretary of state in President Harrison's Cabinet, was strongly in favour of reciprocity, particularly with Latin-American countries. In the same session which saw the passing of the M'Kinley Act, the House of Representatives agreed to the Hitt resolution, providing that whenever it should be certified that Canada was ready to negotiate for a complete or partial removal of all duties, the president should appoint three commissioners to meet the Canadian representatives, and report their findings.

This was the position of affairs when, early in 1891, Sir John Macdonald suddenly decided to dissolve parliament, in spite of an explicit promise to the contrary made a short time before. With the dissolution came an adroit attempt to cut the ground from under the feet of the Liberal party. It was asserted that, on the initiative of the United States, negotiations had been undertaken to settle all outstanding disputes, and to renew the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854, 'with the modifications {120} required by the altered circumstances of both countries and with the extensions deemed by the Commission to be in the interests of Canada and the United States.' This announcement greatly strengthened the Government's position. Since the United States had taken the initiative there was likelihood of a successful outcome. Many who favoured reciprocity but felt doubtful as to the political outcome of the more sweeping proposals of the Opposition were thus led to favour the Government.

The announcement proved too audacious. Secretary Blaine indignantly denied that the United States had initiated the negotiations, and Sir Charles Tupper so admitted after the elections. Mr Blaine further made it plain that no treaty confined to natural products would be entertained. In the face of this statement the Government executed another sharp turn, and appealed to anti-American sentiment and protected interests, denouncing vigorously the Opposition's policy as sure to lead to ruin, annexation, and—the climax—direct taxation. Sir John Macdonald issued a skilful address to the electors, and the cry of 'the old flag, the old man, and the old policy' appealed to noble feelings and to deplorable prejudice alike.


In his address to the Canadian people Mr Laurier arraigned the National Policy for its utter failure to bring the prosperity so lavishly promised. Reciprocal freedom of trade with the United States would give the larger market which had become indispensable. The commercial advantages of such a plan were so clear that they were not disputed, it was attacked entirely on other grounds. The charge that it would involve discrimination against Great Britain could not have much weight in the mouths of men whose object was to prevent the importation of English manufactures. If it did involve discrimination, if the interests of Canada and the motherland clashed, he would stand by his native land. But that discrimination was involved he did not admit. It was not essential to assimilate the Canadian to the American tariff: 'Should the concessions demanded from the people of Canada involve consequences injurious to their sense of honour or duty, either to themselves or to the motherland, the people of Canada would not have reciprocity at such a price.' Direct taxation might be averted by retrenchment and revision of custom schedules. The charge that unrestricted reciprocity would lead to annexation was an unworthy appeal to {122} passion and prejudice, and, if it meant anything, meant that it would 'make the people so prosperous that, not satisfied with a commercial alliance, they would forthwith vote for political absorption in the American Republic.'

The Government's appeal to the flag was greatly aided by some letters and pamphlets of Mr Farrer and Congressman Hitt and other leaders in the commercial union movement, which were made public and which gave colour to the cry that unrestricted reciprocity was only a first step towards annexation. It was in vain that Oliver Mowat and Alexander Mackenzie, the latter now soon to pass from the scene, voiced the deep-lying sentiments of the Liberal party in favour of British connection, and indignantly denied that it was at stake in the reciprocity issue. Sir John Macdonald's last appeal rallied many a wandering follower on grounds of personal loyalty, the campaign funds of the party were great beyond precedent, and the railway and manufacturing and banking interests of the country outweighed and outmanoeuvred the farmers. The Government was returned by a majority of thirty. In Ontario it had only four seats to the good and had a minority {123} of the popular vote, while in Quebec the Liberals at last secured a bare majority. The other provinces, however, stood by the party in power, and gave the Government another lease of life for five years.

The smoke of battle had not cleared when a remarkable letter from Edward Blake, the late leader of the Liberal party, was published. It was a curiously inconclusive document. It began with a scathing indictment of the Conservative policy and its outcome: 'Its real tendency has been towards disintegration and annexation.... It has left us with a smaller population, a scanty immigration, and a North-West empty still; with enormous additions to our public debt and yearly charge, an extravagant system of expenditure and an unjust tariff, with restricted markets whether to buy or to sell.... It has left us with lowered standards of public virtue and a death-like apathy in public opinion, with racial, religious, and provincial animosities rather inflamed than soothed.... It has left us with our hands tied, our future compromised.' A preference in the English market was out of the question. Unrestricted free trade with the United States would bring prosperity, give men, money, and {124} markets. Yet it would involve assimilation of tariffs and thus become identical with commercial union. 'Political Union,' he added in a cryptic postscript, 'though becoming our probable, is by no means our ideal, or as yet our inevitable, future.'

Mr Blake had persistently withheld his aid and advice from the leaders of the party since his resignation. His action now was resented as a stab in the back, and the implication that the Liberal policy was identical with commercial union was stoutly denied. If, as Mr Laurier had made clear in his electoral address, negotiations proved that reciprocal arrangements could not be made except on such terms, they would not be made at all. Yet the letter had undoubted force, and materially aided the Government in the by-elections.

The Government formally carried out its undertaking to open negotiations with the United States. Sir Charles Tupper, Sir John Thompson, and George E. Foster went to Washington and conferred with Secretary Blaine. But the negotiators were too far apart to come to terms, and the proposals were not seriously pressed. Later, when the tide of reaction brought the Democrats back to power in 1892, the Conservatives made no {125} attempt to renew negotiations; and later still, when the Liberals came to power in Canada, the Republicans were back in office on a platform of sky-high protection.

Meanwhile, the increase of exports of farm products to Great Britain promised the larger markets sought, and made admission to the United States of less pressing importance. When, in 1893, the Liberal party met in national convention at Ottawa, limited reciprocity, 'including a well-considered list of manufactured articles,' was endorsed, but it was subordinated as part of a general demand for a lower tariff, now again prominent in the party programme.

[1] Sir Alexander T. Galt, Sir John Rose, and Sir John Abbott.

[2] Memoir of Sumner, vol. iv, p. 409.




The secret of empire—The old colonial system—Partner nations—Achieving self-government—Building up the partnership—The High Commissioner—New foreign problems—First colonial conference—Political federation—Inter-imperial defence—Inter-imperial trade

When Canada's problems seemed too great for her to solve unaided, many had looked to Washington for relief, in ways which have been reviewed. Others looked to London. The relations between Canada and the other parts of the Empire did not become the central issue in any political campaign. Until late in the period now under survey they aroused little systematic public discussion. There were few acute episodes to crystallize the filial sentiment for the motherland which existed in the country. Yet throughout these years that readjustment in the relations between the colonies and the mother country, which is perhaps the most significant political development of the century, was steadily proceeding. Steadily and surely, if for the most part unconsciously, the transformation of the Empire went on, until in the following period it became a fact and a problem which none could {127} blink, and the central theme in public interest and political activity.

The story of this transformation, of how the little isles in the North Sea ventured and blundered into world-wide empire; of how at first they endeavoured to rule this vast domain in the approved fashion, for the power and profit of the motherland; of how this policy was slowly abandoned because unprofitable and impossible; of how, when this change took place, most men looked to the ending of a connection which no longer paid; of how acquired momentum and inherited obligations on the one side and instinctive loyalty on the other prevented this result; of how the new lands across the sea grew in numbers and strength and national spirit and, withal, in the determination to work out a permanent partnership on the new basis of equality—this is the most wonderful story political annals have to tell. The British Empire of to-day, tested in fire and not found wanting, is the paradox and miracle of political achievement, full of hope for the future of the rest of the world. In shaping the policy which made the continuance and growth and adjustment of the Empire possible, Canadian statesmen of both parties played a leading part. That {128} long story cannot here be told, but a few of the significant steps must be recalled, to make clear the development of yesterday and to-day.

In the expansion of Europe over all the five continents and the seven seas which has marked the past five centuries, the Englishman found a roomy place in the sun. By luck or pluck, by trusted honesty or sublime assurance, and with little aid from his government, he soon outdistanced Frenchman and Dutchman, Spaniard and Portuguese, in the area and richness of the regions over which his flag floated and in which his trading-posts or his settlements were established. This empire was ruled, as other colonial domains were ruled, to advance the power and the profit of the motherland. The colonies and dependencies were plantations, estates beyond the seas, to be acquired and guarded for the gain of the mother country. They were encouraged by bounty and preference to grow what the mother country needed, and were compelled by parliamentary edict to give the mother country a monopoly of their markets for all she made. Great Britain never applied these doctrines with the systematic rigour of the Spaniard of the seventeenth century or the German of the twentieth, but monopoly of {129} the direct trade with the colonies, and the political subordination of the colonies to secure this end, were nevertheless the cardinal doctrines of imperial policy.

Slowly this old colonial system broke down. It became impossible to keep in political subjection millions of men across the seas of the same vigorous race. This the American Revolution drove home and the Canadian insurrections of 1837 again made unmistakable. In the views of most men it came to appear unprofitable, even if possible. Gradually the ideas of Adam Smith and Pitt and Huskisson, of Cobden and Bright and Peel, took possession of the English mind. Trade monopolies, it now was held, hampered more than they helped, even if costless. But when maintained at heavy expense, at cost of fortification and diplomatic struggle and war, they became worse than useless, a drag on the development of both colony and mother country. So the fetters which impeded trade and navigation were discarded.

There followed, from the forties onward, a period of drift, of waiting for the coming separation. When the trade monopoly which was the object of empire ceased, most men in Britain reasoned that the end of the Empire, {130} in so far as it included colonies settled by white men, could not be far distant. Yet the end did not come. Though Radical politicians and publicists urged 'cutting the last link of connection'; though Conservative statesmen damned 'the wretched colonies' as 'millstones about our necks'; though under-secretaries said farewell to one 'last' governor-general after another and the London Times bade Canadians 'take up your freedom, your days of apprenticeship are over'; in spite of all, the colonies lingered within the fold. Some dim racial instinct, the force of momentum, or the grip of inherited obligations, kept them together until gradually the times changed and the stage was set for another scene.

Alike in the motherland and in the colonies men had stumbled upon the secret of empire—freedom. Expecting the end to come soon, the governing powers in London had ruled with a light rein, consenting to one colonial demand after another for self-government. In these years of salutary neglect the twofold roots of imperial connection had a chance to grow. The colonies rose to national consciousness, and yet, in very truth because of their freedom, and the absence of the {131} friction a centralizing policy would have entailed, they retained their affection and their sympathy for the land of their ancestors. Thus the way was prepared for the equal partnership which it has been the task of these later years to work out.

Two lines of development were equally essential. It was necessary to secure complete freedom for the colonies, to abolish the old relation of ascendancy and subordination, and it was necessary to develop new ties and new instruments of co-operation. Nowhere in early years do we find a more nearly adequate recognition of this twofold task than in the prophetic words of Sir John Macdonald: 'England, instead of looking upon us as a merely dependent colony, will have in us a friendly nation, a subordinate but still a powerful people, to stand by her in North America in peace as in war. The people of Australia will be such another subordinate nation.... She will be able to look to the subordinate nations in alliance with her and owing allegiance to the same sovereign, who will assist in enabling her to meet again the whole world in arms as she has done before.'[1] It was Sir John also who urged that the new {132} union should be called the 'Kingdom of Canada,' a name which the British authorities rejected, ostensibly out of fear of offending the republican sensibilities of the United States. Had that name been chosen, the equality of the status of Canada would have been recognized much sooner, for names are themselves arguments powerful with wayfaring men. Both in act and in word the Conservative chieftain oftentimes lapsed from this statesmanlike view into the prevalent colonialism; but he did much to make his vision a reality, for it was Macdonald who, with the aid of political friend and political opponent, laid the foundations upon which the statesmen of the new generation have built an enduring fabric.

The first task, the assertion of the autonomy of the Dominions, had been largely achieved. So far as it concerned domestic affairs, practically all Canadians accepted the principle for which Liberals had fought alone in the earlier days. In the thirties a British colonial secretary, replying to Howe's demand for responsible government, had declared that 'to any such demand Her Majesty's Government must oppose a respectful but at the same time a firm declaration that it is inconsistent with a {133} due adherence to the essential distinction between a metropolitan and a colonial government, and it is therefore inadmissible,' and a Canadian Tory Legislative Council had echoed that 'the adoption of the plan must lead to the overthrow of the great colonial Empire of England.' But now, since Elgin's day (1849), responsible government, self-government in domestic affairs, had been an unquestioned fact, a part of the heritage of which all Canadians, irrespective of party, were equally proud.

In foreign affairs, too, some progress had been made. Foreign affairs in modern times are largely commercial affairs. In part such questions are regulated by laws passed by each country independently, in part by joint treaty. Complete autonomy as to the first mode was early maintained by Galt and Macdonald. In 1859 Galt affirmed the right to tax even British goods, 'the right of the Canadian legislature to adjust the taxation of the people in the way they deemed best, even if it should unfortunately happen to meet the disapproval of the Imperial Ministry.' And twenty years later, in spite of British protests, Sir John Macdonald went further in his National Policy, and taxed British goods still {134} higher to encourage production at home. The tariff of 1879 was the last nail in the coffin of the old colonial system. Here was a colony which not only did not grant British manufacturers a monopoly, but actually sought to exclude from its markets any British wares it could itself produce.

Self-government in the regulation of foreign commercial affairs, so far as treaties were essential to effect it, came more slowly, and with much hesitation and misgiving.

Negative freedom was achieved first. After 1877 Canada ceased to be bound by commercial treaties made by the United Kingdom unless it expressly desired to be included. As to treaties made before that date, the restrictions lasted longer. Most of these treaties bound Canada to give to the country concerned the same tariff and other privileges given to any other foreign power, and Canada in return was given corresponding privileges. Two went further. Treaties made in the sixties with Belgium and Germany—history discovers strange bedfellows—bound all British colonies to give to these countries the same tariff privileges granted to Great Britain or to sister colonies. In 1891 the Canadian parliament sent a unanimous address to {135} Her Majesty praying for the denunciation of these treaties, but in vain. It was not until the Laurier administration had forced the issue six years later that the request was granted.

Positive freedom, a share in the making of treaties affecting Canada, came still more gradually. When in 1870 Galt and Huntington pressed for treaty-making powers, Macdonald opposed, urging the great advantages of British aid in negotiation. A year later, however, Macdonald gave expression to his changed view of the value of that aid. As one of the five British commissioners who negotiated the Washington Treaty (1871), he declared that his colleagues had 'only one thing in their minds—that is, to go home to England with a treaty in their pockets, settling everything, no matter at what cost to Canada.' In 1874 George Brown went to Washington as one of the two British commissioners in the abortive reciprocity negotiations of that year. In 1879 the Macdonald Government made Galt ambassador at large to negotiate treaties in Europe, but he was hampered by being compelled to 'filter' his proposals through the various resident British ambassadors. When in 1882 Blake moved in the House of {136} Commons a resolution in favour of direct treaty-making powers, Sir John Macdonald opposed it as meaning separation and independence, ending his speech with the declaration, 'A British subject I was born, a British subject I hope to die.' Yet action moved faster than the philosophy of action. In 1883 Sir Charles Tupper signed the protocols of the Cable Conference in Paris on Canada's behalf; and at Madrid, in 1887 and 1889, the same doughty statesman represented Canada in the conduct of important negotiations. It was in 1891, only nine years after Sir John Macdonald's reply to Blake foreboding separation and independence, that the House of Commons and Senate of Canada, praying for the abrogation of the Belgian and German treaties, unanimously declared that 'the self-governing colonies are recognized as possessing the right to define their respective fiscal relations to all foreign nations.'

The first task had been practically achieved; freedom had been won; but it still remained to rise through freedom to co-operation, to use the newly won powers to work out a lasting partnership between the free states of the Empire. This was the harder task. There was no precedent to follow. Centralized {137} empires there had been; colonies there had been which had grown into independent states. But of an empire which was not an empire, of colonies which had achieved self-government only to turn to closer union with the parent state, the world had as yet no instance.

It had not even a model in idea, a theory of how it should be done. Such a forecast as that already quoted from Sir John Macdonald[2] came as near as might be, but this long remained a peroration and no more. No man and no school divined absolutely the present fact and theory of empire. It has worked out of the march and pressure of events, aided by the clash of the oppositions which it has reconciled.

In the eighties and nineties four possible futures for the Dominion were discussed. The first was the continuance of the colonial status, the second Annexation, the third Independence, and the fourth Imperial Federation. Colonialism had only inertia in its favour. Annexation ran counter both to filial sentiment and to national hopes, but its discussion served to show the desperate need of change and forced the advocates of other ideals to set forth their creeds. Independence meant {138} the complete severing of the ties which bound Canada to the rest of the Empire. Imperial Federation proposed to set up in London a new authority with representatives from all the white Dominions and with power to tax and bind. Each played its needed part. The advocates of Imperial Federation did much to prevent a drift towards Annexation which might otherwise have set in. The advocates of Independence expressed the national aspirations which must be satisfied in any solution that would be enduring. The resultant of these forces was of a character none had precisely anticipated. Empire and Independence were reconciled.

In this period the two most important steps towards co-operation were the appointment of a Canadian High Commissioner in London and the beginning of the Colonial Conferences.

The first step was taken on the initiative of the Macdonald Government in 1879. It was found necessary to appoint a Canadian representative in London both to act as ambassador at large in dealing with European states, and to serve as a link between the Canadian and British Governments. The latter purpose was especially significant. In the days of {139} colonial subordination the governor-general had served as the only needed link. His duty was to govern the colony in accordance with the interest and policy of the mother country, and in carrying that out he was responsible to the British Government. Now he was becoming the representative, not of the British Government, but of the king, who was king of Canada as well as of the United Kingdom, and, like the king, he governed by the advice of the responsible ministers in the land where he resided. This change in the governor-general's status marked the ending of the old colonial relationship. The appointment of a commissioner to represent to one free government the wishes of another free government was one of the first steps in building up the new relationship.

The initiative in the second step came from the United Kingdom. A change was now apparent in the attitude of many Englishmen upon imperial questions. The present value of the colonies, their possible greater value in the future, and the need of all the help that could be had from them, were coming to be the leading articles in the creed of many fervent thinkers. The Imperial Federation League, founded in London in 1884, gave {140} vigorous expression to these views; and its Canadian branch, formed at Montreal in the next year, to be followed by local branches from sea to sea, exercised a strong influence on the current of Canadian thought.

The new desire to bind the colonies closer was largely due to the revival of protection and of imperialism both in the United Kingdom and in foreign countries. Alike in trade and in defence, colonial aid was by many coming to be felt essential. Abroad, protection was in the ascendant. Cobden's prophecy of the world following Britain's example in free trade had not been fulfilled. France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Russia, the United States, were rearing higher tariffs, threatening to shut out British goods. Even Canada and Victoria had done likewise. Moreover, France and Germany and the United States were becoming formidable rivals to Britain, as they turned more and more from farming to manufacturing. It was little wonder that a section of English opinion began to sigh for protected markets, for retaliatory tariffs to force down bars abroad, and for a revival of the old preference or monopoly in the markets of the colonies.

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