The Day of Sir Wilfrid Laurier - A Chronicle of Our Own Time
by Oscar D. Skelton
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[Frontispiece: SIR WILFRID LAURIER 'IN ACTION' After an instantaneous photograph taken during an address in the open air at Sorel, 1911]



A Chronicle of Our Own Times






Copyright in all Countries subscribing to the Berne Convention



In conformity with its title, this volume, save for the earlier chapters, is history rather than biography, is of the day, more than of the man. The aim has been to review the more significant events and tendencies in the recent political life of Canada. In a later and larger work it is hoped to present a more personal and intimate biography of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.






PREFATORY NOTE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vii I. THE MAKING OF A CANADIAN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 II. POLITICS IN THE SIXTIES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 III. FIRST YEARS IN PARLIAMENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 IV. IN OPPOSITION, 1878-1887 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53 V. LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION, 1887-1896 . . . . . . . . . . 91 VI. LOOKING TO WASHINGTON . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101 VII. AN EMPIRE IN TRANSITION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126 VIII. THE END OF A REGIME . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153 IX. NEW MEN AT THE HELM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 169 X. CANADA'S NEW PLACE IN THE WORLD . . . . . . . . . . . . 176 XI. THE COMING OF PROSPERITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 218 XII. CANADA AND FOREIGN POWERS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 249 XIII. NATION AND EMPIRE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 270 XIV. FIFTY YEARS OF UNION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 321 BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 331 INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 333



SIR WILFRID LAURIER IN ACTION . . . . . . . . . . . Frontispiece After an instantaneous photograph taken during an address in the open air at Sorel, 1911.

SIR ANTOINE AIME DORION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Facing page 12 From a photograph.

PRIME MINISTERS OF CANADA, 1867-1915 . . . . . . . . " 36 From photographs.

GOVERNORS-GENERAL OF THE DOMINION . . . . . . . . . " 48 From photographs by Topley.

VICE-REGAL CONSORTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " 64 From photographs by Topley.

HONORE MERCIER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " 90 From a photograph.

SIR WILFRID LAURIER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " 128 From a photograph by Topley.


SIR ROBERT BORDEN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . " 194 From a photograph by Montminy, Quebec.

SIR WILFRID LAURIER IN ENGLAND, 1911 . . . . . . . . " 294 From a photograph.




Early days at St Lin—Seven years of college—Student at law—Arthabaska days

Wilfrid Laurier was born at St Lin, Quebec, on November 20, 1841. His ancestral roots were sunk deep in Canadian soil. For six generations Quebec had been the home of Laurier after Laurier. His kinsmen traced their origin to Anjou, a province that ever bred shrewd and thrifty men. The family name was originally Cottineau. In a marriage covenant entered into at Montreal in 1666 the first representative of the family in Canada is styled 'Francois Cottineau dit Champlauriet.' Evidently some ancestral field or garden of lauriers or oleanders gave the descriptive title which in time, as was common, became the sole family name. The Lauriers came to Canada shortly after Louis XIV took the colony under his royal wing in 1663, in the first era of real settlement, and hewed out homes for themselves in the forest, first on the island of Jesus, at the mouth of the {2} Ottawa, and later in the parish of Lachenaie, on the north bank of the same river, where they grew in numbers until Lauriers, with Rochons and Matthieus, made up nearly all the parish.

Charles Laurier, grandfather of Wilfrid Laurier, was a man of strong character and marked ability. In face of many difficulties he mastered mathematics and became a self-taught land surveyor, so that he was able to make the surveys of the great Pangman seigneury at Lachenaie. Early in the nineteenth century he settled his son Carolus on a farm just hewn out of the forest, near the little village of St Lin, a frontier settlement nestling at the foot of the Laurentian hills north of Montreal. He himself continued to reside at Lachenaie until far on in years, when he went to live with his son at St Lin.

Carolus Laurier followed in his father's footsteps, surveying and farming by turns as opportunity offered. He had not his father's rugged individuality, but his handsome figure, his alert wit, and his amiable and generous nature made him a welcome guest through all the French and Scottish settlements in the north country. That he had something of his father's progressiveness {3} is shown by the fact that he was the first farmer in the neighbourhood to set up a threshing machine in his barn, to take the place of the old-time flail. It was his liberal views that gave the first bent to his son's sympathies; and he was, as we shall see, progressive enough to give the brilliant lad the education needed for professional success, and far-seeing and broad-minded enough to realize how great an asset a thorough knowledge of English speech and English ways would be.

Yet it was rather to his mother that Wilfrid Laurier, like so many other notable men, owed his abilities and his temperament. Marcelle Martineau, kin to the mother of the poet Frechette, was a woman of much strength of character, of fine mind and artistic talents. She lived only five years after her son was born, but in those few years she had so knit herself into his being that the warm and tender memory of her never faded from his impressionable mind. The only other child of this marriage, a daughter, Malvina, died in infancy. Carolus Laurier married again, his second wife being Adeline Ethier. She was much attached to his children and they to her. Of this second marriage three sons were born: {4} Ubalde, who became a physician and died at Arthabaska in 1898; Charlemagne, a merchant in St Lin and later member for the county at Ottawa, who lived until 1907; and Henri, the prothonotary at Arthabaska, who passed away in 1906. Carolus Laurier himself lived on in his little village home forty years after the birth of his eldest son, and his wife lived nearly twenty years longer.

It was a quiet, strength-shaping country home in which the future statesman's boyhood was cast. The little village was off the beaten track of travel; not yet had the railway joined it to the river front. There were few distractions to excite or dissipate youthful energies. Roaming amid the brooding silence of the hills, fishing for trout, hunting partridges and rabbits, and joining in the simple village games, the boy took his boyish pleasures and built for his manhood's calm and power. His home had an intellectual atmosphere quite out of the ordinary, and it enjoyed a full measure of that grace or native courtesy which is not least among Quebec's contributions to the common Canadian stock.

He had his first schooling in the elementary parish school of St Lin, where the boys learned their A-B-C, their two-times-two, and their {5} catechism. Then his father determined to give him a broader outlook by enabling him to see something of the way of life and to learn the tongue of his English-speaking compatriots. Some eight miles west of St Lin on the Achigan river lay the village of New Glasgow. It had been settled about 1820 by Scottish Protestants belonging to various British regiments. Carolus Laurier had carried on surveys there, knew the people well, and was thoroughly at home with them. The affinity so often noted between Scottish and French has doubtless more than a mere historical basis. At any rate, son, like father, soon found a place in the intimate life of the Murrays, the Guthries, the Macleans, the Bennetts and other families of the settlement. His experience was further varied by boarding for a time in the home of an Irish Catholic family named Kirk. Later, he lived with the Murrays, and often helped behind the counter in John Murray's general store.

The school which he attended for two years, 1852-53 and 1853-54, was a mixed school, for both boys and girls, taught by a rapidly shifting succession of schoolmasters, often of very unconventional training. In the first session the school came to an abrupt close in April, {6} owing to the sudden departure of Thompson, the teacher in charge. A man of much greater ability, Sandy Maclean, took his place the following term. He had read widely, and was almost as fond of poetry as of his glass. His young French pupil, who was picking up English in the playground and in the home as well as in the school, long cherished the memory of the man who first opened to him a vista of the great treasures of English letters.

The experience, though brief, had a lasting effect. Perhaps the English speech became rusty in the years of college life that followed at L'Assomption, but the understanding, and the tolerance and goodwill which understanding brings, were destined to abide for life. It was not without reason that the ruling motive of the young schoolboy's future career was to be the awakening of sympathy and harmony between the two races. It would be fortunate for Canada if more experiments like that which Carolus Laurier tried were even to-day to be attempted, not only by French but by English families.

In September 1854, when well on in his thirteenth year, Wilfrid Laurier returned to the normal path prescribed for the keener boys of the province. He entered the college {7} or secondary school of L'Assomption, maintained by secular priests, and the chief seat of education in the country north of Montreal. The course was a thorough one, extending through seven closely filled years. It followed the customary classical lines, laying chief stress on Latin, and next on French literature. Greek was taught less thoroughly; a still briefer study of English, mathematics, scholastic philosophy, history, and geography completed the course. Judged by its fruits, it was a training admirably adapted, in the hands of good teachers such as the fathers at L'Assomption were, to give men destined for the learned professions a good grounding, to impart to them a glimpse of culture, a sympathy with the world beyond, a bent to eloquence and literary style. It was perhaps not so well adapted to train men for success in business; perhaps this literary and classical training is largely responsible for the fact that until of late the French-speaking youth of Quebec have not taken the place in commercial and industrial life that their numbers and ability warrant.

The life at L'Assomption was one of strict discipline. The boys rose at 5.30, and every hour until evening had its task, or was assigned {8} for mealtime or playtime. Once a week, on Wednesday afternoon, came a glorious half-day excursion to the country. There was ample provision for play. But the young student from St Lin was little able to take part in rough and ready sports. His health was extremely delicate, and violent exertion was forbidden. His recreations took other forms. The work of the course of study itself appealed to him, particularly the glories of the literatures of Rome and France and England. While somewhat reserved and retiring, he took delight in vying with his companions in debate and in forming a circle of chosen spirits to discuss, with all the courage and fervour of youth, the questions of their little world, or the echoes that reached them of the political tempests without. Occasionally the outer world came to the little village. Assize courts were held twice a year, and more rarely assemblees contradictoires were held in which fiery politicians roundly denounced each other. The appeal was strong to the boys of keener mind and political yearnings; and well disciplined as he usually was, young Laurier more than once broke bounds to hear the eloquence of advocate or candidate, well content to bear the punishment that followed. {9} Though reserved, he was not in the least afraid to express strong convictions and to defend them when challenged. He entered L'Assomption with the bias towards Liberalism which his father's inclinations and his own training and reading had developed. A youth of less sturdy temper would, however, soon have lost this bias. The atmosphere of L'Assomption was intensely conservative, and both priests and fellow-pupils were inclined to give short shrift to the dangerous radicalism of the brilliant young student from St Lin. A debating society had been formed, largely at his insistence. One of the subjects debated was the audacious theme, 'Resolved, that in the interests of Canada the French Kings should have permitted Huguenots to settle here.' Wilfrid Laurier took the affirmative and urged his points strongly, but the scandalized prefet d'etudes intervened, and there was no more debating at L'Assomption. The boy stuck to his Liberal guns, and soon triumphed over prejudices, becoming easily the most popular as he was the most distinguished student of his day, and the recognized orator and writer of addresses for state occasions.

Of the twenty-six students who entered L'Assomption in his year, only nine graduated. {10} Of these, five entered the priesthood. Sympathetic as Wilfrid Laurier was in many ways with the Church of his fathers, he did not feel called to its professional service. He had long since made up his mind as to his future career, and in 1861, when scarcely twenty, he went to Montreal to study law.

By this time the paternal purse was lean, for the demands of a growing family and his own generous disposition helped to reduce the surveyor's means, which never had been too abundant. The young student, thrown on his own resources, secured a post in the law office of Laflamme and Laflamme which enabled him to undertake the law course in M'Gill University. Rodolphe Laflamme, the head of the firm, one of the leaders of the bar in Montreal, was active in the interests of the radical wing of the Liberal party, known as the Rouges.

The lectures in M'Gill were given in English. Thanks to his experience at New Glasgow and his later reading, the young student found little difficulty in following them. Harder to understand at first were the Latin phrases in Mr, afterwards Judge, Torrance's lectures on Roman law, for at that time the absurd English pronunciation of Latin was {11} the universal rule among English-speaking scholars. Most helpful were the lectures of Carter in criminal law, admirably prepared and well delivered. J. J. C. Abbott, a sound and eminent practitioner, and a future prime minister of Canada, taught commercial law. Laflamme had charge of civil law. Young Laurier made the most of the opportunities offered. While carrying on the routine work of the office, joining in the political and social activities of his circle, and reading widely in both French and English, he succeeded admirably in his law studies. H. L. Desaulniers, a brilliant student whose career came to an untimely close, and H. Welsh, shared with him the honours of the class. In other classes at the same time were Melbourne Tait, C. P. Davidson, and J. J. Curran, all destined to high judicial rank. The young student's success was crowned by his being chosen to give the valedictory. His address, while having somewhat of the flowery rhetoric of youth, was a remarkably broad and sane statement of policy: the need of racial harmony, the true meaning of liberty, the call for straightforward justice, and the lawyer's part in all these objects, were discussed with prophetic eloquence.


But even the most eloquent of valedictories is not a very marketable commodity. It was necessary to get rapidly to work to earn a living. Full of high hopes, he joined with two of his classmates in October 1864 to organize the firm of Laurier, Archambault and Desaulniers. The partners hung out their shingle in Montreal. But clients were slow in coming, for the city was honeycombed with established offices. The young partners found difficulty in tiding over the waiting time, and so in the following April the firm was dissolved and Wilfrid Laurier became a partner of Mederic Lanctot, one of the most brilliant and impetuous writers and speakers of a time when brilliancy and passion seem to have been scattered with lavish hand, a man of amazing energy and resource, but fated by his unbalanced judgment utterly to wreck his own career. Lanctot was too busy at this time with the political campaign he was carrying on in the press and on the platform against Cartier's Confederation policy to look after his clients, and the office work fell mainly to his junior partner. It was a curiously assorted partnership: Lanctot with his headlong and reckless passion, Laurier with his cool, discriminating moderation: but it lasted a year. {13} During this time Mr Laurier was in but not of the group of eager spirits who made Lanctot's office their headquarters. His moderate temperament and his ill-health kept him from joining in the revels of some and the political dissipations of others. 'I seem to see Laurier as he was at that time,' wrote his close friend, L. O. David, 'ill, sad, his air grave, indifferent to all the turmoil raised around him; he passed through the midst of it like a shadow and seemed to say to us, "Brother, we all must die."'[1]

In fact, Mr Laurier's health was the source of very serious concern. Lung trouble had developed, with violent hemorrhages, threatening a speedy end to his career unless a change came. Just at this time the chief of his party and his most respected friend, Antoine Dorion, suggested that he should go to the new settlement of Arthabaskaville in the Eastern Townships, to practise law and to edit Le Defricheur, hitherto published at L'Avenir and controlled by Dorion's younger brother Eric, who had recently died. Largely in the hope that the country life would restore his health, he agreed, and late in 1866 left Montreal for the backwoods village.


The founder of Le Defricheur, Eric Dorion, nicknamed L'Enfant Terrible for his energy and fearlessness, was not the least able or least attractive member of a remarkable family. He had been one of the original members of the Rouge party and, as editor of L'Avenir, a vehement exponent of the principles of that party, but had later sobered down, determined to devote himself to constructive work. He had taken an active part in a colonization campaign and had both preached and practised improved farming methods. He had founded the village of L'Avenir in Durham township, had built a church for the settlers there to show that his quarrel was with ecclesiastical pretensions, not with religion, and for a dozen years had proved a sound and stimulating influence in the growing settlement.

When Mr Laurier decided to open his law office in Arthabaskaville, the seat of the newly formed judicial district of Arthabaska, he moved Le Defricheur to the same village. Lack of capital and poor health hampered his newspaper activities, and, as will be seen later, the journal incurred the displeasure of the religious authorities of the district. Its light lasted barely six months and then flickered {15} out. This left the young lawyer free to devote himself to his practice, which grew rapidly from the beginning, for the district was fast filling up with settlers. The court went on circuit to Danville and Drummondville and Inverness, and soon, both at home and in these neighbouring towns, no lawyer was more popular or more successful. The neighbouring counties contained many Scottish, Irish, and English settlers, who were soon enrolled in the ranks of the young advocate's staunch supporters. The tilting in the court, the preparation of briefs, the endeavour to straighten out tangles in the affairs of helpless clients, all the interests of a lawyer deeply absorbed in his profession, made these early years among the happiest of his career. Arthabaska was, even then, no mean centre of intellectual and artistic life, and a close and congenial circle of friends more than made up for the lost attractions of the metropolis.

But neither work nor social intercourse filled all the young lawyer's nights and days. It was in this period that he laid the foundation of his wide knowledge of the history and the literature of Canada and of the two countries from which Canada has sprung. Bossuet and Moliere, Hugo and Racine, Burke {16} and Sheridan, Macaulay and Bright, Shakespeare and Burns, all were equally devoured. Perhaps because of his grandfather's association with the Pangman seigneury (the property of the fur trader Peter Pangman), his interest was early turned to the great fur trade of Canada, and he delved deep into its records. The life and words of Lincoln provided another study of perpetual interest. Though Montreal was intensely Southern in sympathy during the Civil War, Mr Laurier, from his days as a student, had been strongly attracted by the rugged personality of the Union leader, and had pierced below caricature and calumny to the tender strength, the magnanimous patience, of the man. A large niche in his growing library was therefore devoted to memoirs of Lincoln and his period.

Congenial work, loyal friends, the company of the great spirits of the past—these were much, but not all. The crowning happiness came with his marriage, May 13, 1868, to Miss Zoe Lafontaine of Montreal. To both, the marriage brought ideal companionship and fulfilment. To the husband especially it brought a watchfulness that at last conquered the illness that had threatened, a devotion which never flagged—for Lady Laurier is still {17} to-day much more a 'Laurierite' than is Sir Wilfrid—and a stimulus that never permitted contentment with second best.

The years of preparation were nearly over. The call to wider service was soon to come. The new Dominion, and not least Quebec, faced many difficult political problems. Aiding in their solution, the young lawyer in the quiet village of Arthabaska was to find full scope for all the strength of brain and all the poise and balance of temper which the years had brought him.

[1] Mes Contemporains, p. 85.




Parties in flux—Church and state—The war on the Institute—Le Defricheur

The year 1841, when Wilfrid Laurier was born, was the year of the Union of Upper and Lower Canada as a single province. There followed, as he came to manhood, a time of intense political activity, of bitter party and personal rivalry, of constant shift in the lines of political groups and parties. The stage was being set and many of the players were being trained for the greater drama which was to open with Confederation.

Canadian political parties had originally been formed on the plain issue whether or not the majority of the people were to be allowed to rule. In Upper Canada the governing party, known as the 'Family Compact,' composed chiefly of representatives of the Crown and men who had inherited position or caste from their Loyalist fathers, had been attacked by a motley and shifting opposition, sober Whig and fiery Radical, newcomers from Britain or from the States, and {19} native-born, united mainly by their common antagonism to clique rule. In Lower Canada the same contest, on account of the monopoly of administration held by the English-speaking minority, dubbed 'Bureaucrats' or the 'Chateau Clique,' had taken on the aspect of a racial struggle.

When at last self-government in essentials had been won, the old dividing lines began to melt away. All but a small knot of Tory irreconcilables now agreed that the majority must rule, and that this would neither smash the Empire nor make an end of order and justice in the province itself. But who were to unite to form that majority, and what was to be their platform? In the Reform party there had been many men of essentially conservative mind, men such as John Redmond before the winning of Irish Home Rule, who on one point had been forced into hostility to an order of society with which, on other points, they were in almost complete sympathy. Particularly in Quebec, as John A. Macdonald was quick to see, there were many such, quite ready to rally to authority now that opportunity was open to all. Other factors hastened the breakdown of the old groupings. Economic interests came to the fore. In the {20} discussion of canal and railway projects, banking and currency, trade and tariffs, new personal, class, or sectional interests arose. Once, too, that the machinery of responsible government had been installed, differences in political aptitude, in tactics and ideals, developed, and personal rivalries sharpened.

As a result of this unsettling and readjustment, a new party developed in the early fifties, composed of the moderate sections of both the older parties, and calling itself Liberal-Conservative. It took over the policy of the Reformers, on self-government, on the clergy reserves, on seigneurial tenure. The old Tory party dwindled and its platform disappeared. Yet a strong Opposition is essential to the proper working of the British system of parliamentary government; if it did not exist, it would have to be created. No artificial effort, however, was now needed to produce it. A Liberalism or a Liberal-Conservatism which stood still as time marched by soon ceased to be true Liberalism; and new groups sprang up, eager to press forward at a swifter pace.

In Canada West the 'Clear Grit' party, founded by Radicals such as John Rolph, Peter Perry, and William M'Dougall, and later {21} under the leadership of George Brown, declared war to the knife on all forms of special privilege. Denominational privilege, whether the claim of Anglicans to clergy reserves, or of Roman Catholics to separate schools in Canada West and to ecclesiastical supremacy above the civil law in Canada East; class privilege, like the claim of the seigneurs to feudal dues and powers; sectional privilege, such as it was asserted Canada East enjoyed in having half the members in the Union parliament though her population had ceased to be anything like half—all these Brown attacked with tremendous energy, if not always with fairness and judgment.

In Canada East the Rouges carried on a similar but far more hopeless fight. The brilliant group of young men who formed the nucleus of this party, Dorion, Doutre, Daoust, Papin, Fournier, Laberge, Letellier, Laflamme, Geoffrion, found a stimulus in the struggle which democratic Europe was waging in 1848, and a leader in Papineau. The great agitator had come back from exile in Paris to find a country that knew not Joseph, to find former lieutenants who now thought they could lead, and a province where the majority had wearied of the old cries of New France and were {22} suspicious of the new doctrines of Old France. He threw himself into violent but futile opposition to LaFontaine and rallied these fiery young crusaders about him. In L'Avenir, and later in Le Pays, they tilted against real and imaginary ogres, and the hustings of Quebec rang with their eloquence. Their demands were most sweeping and heterogeneous. They called for a vigorous policy of colonization and of instruction and experiment in agriculture; for simplification of judicial procedure and the forms of government; for the election, on the American plan, of administrative as well as legislative authorities; for annual parliaments; for increased powers of local government; for universal suffrage; for the abolition of clergy reserves, seigneurial tenure, and church tithes; and for the repeal of the Union. They joined the disgruntled Tories of their province in demanding, for very different reasons, annexation to the United States. Many of these demands have been approved, some have been disapproved, by time. Right or wrong, they were too advanced for their day and place. The country as a whole wanted, and doubtless needed, a period of noncontentious politics, of recuperation after long agitation, of constructive {23} administration, and this the Liberal-Conservative majority was for the time better able to give, even though corruption was soon to vitiate its powers for good.

The alliance of the Rouges with the 'Clear Grits,' who were ever denouncing French Canada's 'special privileges,' was a great source of weakness to them in their own province. It was, however, the hostility of a section of the Catholic hierarchy which was most effective in keeping these agitators long in a powerless minority. In the early days of the party this hostility was not unwarranted. Many of the young crusaders had definitely left the fold of the Church to criticize it from without, to demand the abolition of the Pope's temporal power in Europe and of the Church's tithing privileges in Canada, and to express heterodox doubts on matters of doctrine. This period soon passed, and the radical leaders confined themselves to demanding freedom of thought and expression and political activity; but the conflict went on. Almost inevitably the conflict was waged in both the political and the religious field. Where the chief question at issue was the relation of church and state, it was difficult to keep politics out of religion or religion out of politics. It was {24} to be one of the signal services of Wilfrid Laurier, in his speech on Political Liberalism, to make clear the dividing line.

The conflict in Canada was in large part an echo of European struggles. In the past Canada had taken little notice of world-movements. The Reform agitation in Upper Canada had been, indeed, influenced by the struggle for parliamentary reform in Great Britain; but the French-speaking half of Canada, carefully sheltered in the quiet St Lawrence valley, a bit of seventeenth-century Normandy and Brittany preserved to the nineteenth, had known little and cared less for the storms without. But now questions were raised which were world-questions, and in the endeavour to adjust satisfactorily the relations of church and state both ultramontanes and liberals became involved in the quarrels which were rending France and Italy, and Canada felt the influence of the European stream of thought or passion. When in 1868 five hundred young Canadians, enrolled as Papal Zouaves, sailed from Quebec to Rome, to support with their bayonets the tottering temporal power of the Pope, it was made clear that the moving forces of Europe had taken firm hold on the mind and heart of Quebec.


In Old France there had been much strife of Pope and King. The Pope had claimed authority over the Church in France, and the right to intervene in all state matters which touched morals or religion. King after king had sought to build up a national or Gallican Church, with the king at its head, controlled by its own bishops or by royal or parliamentary authority. Then had come the Revolution, making war on all privilege, overturning at once king and noble and prelate who had proved faithless to their high tasks. But in the nineteenth century, after the storm had spent itself, the Church, purified of internal enemies, had risen to her former position.

Within the Church itself widely different views were urged as to the attitude to be taken towards the new world that was rising on the ruins of the old order, towards the Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity and other ideas of '89. One wing called for relentless hostility, for an alliance of altar and throne to set up authority once more on its pedestal and to oppose at once the anarchy of democratic rule and the scepticism of free-thought. This ultramontane attitude—this looking 'beyond the mountains' to a supreme authority in Rome to give stability in a shifting {26} world—found able and aggressive exponents. De Maistre denied the right of individual judgment in politics any more than in religion, insisting on the divine source of kingly power and the duty of the Pope to oversee the exercise of this power. Lamennais brought De Maistre's opinions into practical politics, and insisted with burning eloquence on the need for the submission of all mankind to the Pope, the 'living tradition of mankind,' through whom alone individual reason receives the truth. Veuillot continued the crusade with unpitying logic and unquenchable zeal. In this era the disputes turned most significantly on control of press and school, for, as the revolution progressed, it gave the masses political power and made control of the means of shaping popular opinion as important as control of feudal fiefs or episcopal allegiance had been in earlier days. Opposed to this school stood men like Montalembert, Lacordaire, and Bishop Dupanloup—men who clung to the old Gallican liberties, or who wished to make peace with liberalism, to set up a Catholic liberalism, frankly accepting the new order, the right of the people to rule themselves, and seeking to show that by liberty of thought and discussion the true interests of {27} the Church would be advanced and its power be broadest based. Now one wing, now the other won, but in the main the current flowed strongly towards ultramontanism. Pius IX, liberal in sympathies up to 1848, completely reversed his position after that date. In the Syllabus which he issued in 1864 he gave no quarter to modern tendencies. The doctrines that 'every man is free to embrace the religion which his reason assures him to be true,' that 'in certain Catholic countries immigrant non-Catholics should have the free exercise of their religion,' and that 'the Roman Pontiff can and ought to be reconciled with progress, liberalism, and modern civism,' he explicitly condemned as false and heretical.

In Canada these successive conflicts had found many echoes. During the French regime Gallican principles of the power of the king over the Church had been frequently asserted; governor or intendant had, in a few notable instances, endeavoured to bridle the Church authorities. When the English came, the Church lost its place as the state church, but it consolidated its power, and soon was freer from intervention than it had been under the Most Christian King of France. During the French Revolution Canada was kept {28} isolated from contact with France, but after the Restoration, with ultramontanism in the ascendant, intercourse was favoured; and the most thoroughgoing principles of clerical supremacy, with the most militant methods of controversy, found lodgment here. In both private and public life, among clergy as well as laity, each of the opposing tendencies was stoutly championed.

When Wilfrid Laurier went to Montreal in 1861, the leaders of the Liberal or Rouge party had sobered down from the fiery radicalism of their youth, and were content to leave the authorities of the Church alone. But leading authorities of the Church remained suspicious of that party. Bishop Bourget of Montreal, one of the most pious and energetic of ecclesiastics, firm to the point of obstinacy, seemed determined to crush it out. And though many eminent churchmen held out for a broader and more tolerant policy, the ultramontanes, by reason of their crusading zeal, steadily gained the ascendancy.

The issues raised in Quebec were manifold. Among them were the right of private judgment, the authority of canon law in the province, civil or ecclesiastical control over marriage, clerical immunity from the {29} jurisdiction of civil courts, and the degree of intervention which was permissible to the clergy in elections.

The first question, that of the right of private judgment, concerned the future leader of Canadian Liberalism and became acute in connection with the Institut Canadien of Montreal. This was a literary and scientific society, founded in 1844 by some members of the same group who later organized the Rouge party. It supplied the want of a public library and reading-room in Montreal, and a hundred branches sprang up throughout the province. The Institut soon fell under the suspicion of a section of the clergy. It was declared by Bishop Bourget that immoral or heretical books which had been put on the Index were contained in the library. Rival societies were founded under the auspices of the Church and many of the members of the Institut were induced to secede.

Nevertheless young Laurier joined the Institut shortly after coming to Montreal. In 1863 he was one of a committee of four who endeavoured in vain to induce Bishop Bourget to specify what books were under the ban, and in 1865 and 1866 he was a vice-president of the society. Like his associates, he was {30} placed in a difficult position by the bishop's unyielding attitude, for he did not wish to quarrel with his Church. So far as he was concerned, however, his removal to Arthabaskaville in 1866 ended the episode.

The remaining members of the Institut struggled on until 1868, when they published a Year-Book containing an address by Mr L. A. Dessaules, president of the Institut, commending toleration.[1] A nice question of interpretation followed. Mr Dessaules asserted that he meant to urge personal toleration and good-will. Bishop Bourget contended that the address meant dogmatic toleration or indifference, the attitude that one creed was as good as another. In spite of an appeal to Rome by Joseph Doutre the work was placed on the Index, and the announcement followed that members who persisted in adhering to the Institut would be refused the sacraments of the Church. After this blow the Institut {31} dwindled away and in time disappeared entirely.

Meanwhile Mr Laurier's weekly newspaper at Arthabaskaville, Le Defricheur, had come under the ban of Bishop Lafleche of Three Rivers, in whose diocese the little village lay. Subscribers refused to take their copies from the postmaster, or quietly called at the office to announce that, in spite of their personal sympathy, they were too much afraid of the cures—or of their own wives—to continue their subscriptions. The editor warmly protested against the arbitrary action, which threatened at once to throttle his freedom of speech and to wipe out his saved and borrowed capital. But the forces arrayed against him were too strong, and some six months after the first number under his management appeared, Le Defricheur went the way of many other Liberal journals in Quebec. It was not likely that Mr Laurier's growing law practice would have long permitted him to edit the paper, but at the moment the blow was none the less felt.

[1] 'Is it not permissible,' Mr Dessaules asked, 'when Protestants and Catholics are placed side by side in a country, in a city, for them to join in the pursuit of knowledge? ... What is toleration? It is reciprocal indulgence, sympathy, Christian charity.... It is fraternity, the spirit, of religion well understood.... It is at bottom humility, the idea that others are not worthless, that others are as good as ourselves.... Intolerance is pride; it is the idea that we are better than others; it is egotism, the idea that we owe others nothing.'




In the Provincial Legislature—In federal politics—The Mackenzie government—The Riel question—Protection or free trade—The Catholic programme—Catholic liberalism—The clergy in politics—Political liberalism—In the administration

Less than five years had passed after Wilfrid Laurier came to Arthabaskaville, a boyish, unknown lawyer-editor, when he was chosen by an overwhelming majority as member for Drummond-Arthabaska in the provincial legislature. His firmly based Liberalism, his power as a speaker, his widespread popularity, had very early marked him out as the logical candidate of his party. On many grounds he was prepared to listen to the urging of his friends. His interest in politics was only second, if second it was, to his interest in his profession. The ambition to hold a place in parliament was one which appealed to practically every able young lawyer of his time in Quebec, and, thanks to the short sessions of the provincial assembly and the nearness of Arthabaska to Quebec, membership in the legislature would not greatly interfere with his work at home. Yet his health was still {33} precarious, and it was with much hesitation and reluctance that he finally consented to stand for the county in 1871, at the second general election since Confederation. Though ill throughout the campaign, he was able to make a few speeches, and the loyal support of his friends did the rest. His opponent, Edward Hemming, a barrister of Drummondville, had been the previous member for the riding. At the close of the polls—those were still the days of open voting—it was found that, while the Liberal party in the province was once more badly defeated, Wilfrid Laurier had won his seat by over one thousand majority.

When the legislature met at Quebec in November, there was a lively interest on both sides of the chamber in the young man of thirty who had scored such a notable victory. At that time the legislature had an unusually large number of men of first rank in eloquence and parliamentary ability, including Cartier, Chapleau, Cauchon, Holton, and Irvine. All these except Chapleau were also members of the House of Commons, since at that time no law forbade dual representation, and the standards were relatively high. The Government under Chauveau, the prime minister, {34} was too firmly entrenched to be shaken by any assaults from the Opposition leader, Henri Joly de Lotbiniere, and his scanty following. In the criticism, however, the member for Arthabaska took a notable part. He did not speak often, but when he did his remarks were fresh and constructive. In the debate on the Address he scored the Government for its backward educational policy, urged active steps to check the exodus of French Canadians to the mills of New England, praised the ideals of British Liberalism, and called for a truce in racial and religious quarrels. In a later speech he presented the keenest constitutional criticism yet made of the system of dual representation, showing that it tended to bring the provinces too completely within the orbit of the central power and confuse local with federal issues. Three years later, it may be noted, the system was abolished.

The vigour and yet moderation of these first efforts, so aptly phrased and so admirably fitted to the peculiar requirements of parliamentary speaking, the grace and flair of the orator, gave the member for Arthabaska at a stroke high rank in the party. He was very soon urged to seek the wider opportunities of federal politics. Ottawa, it was clear, would {35} make much greater demands upon his time than Quebec, yet his health was now improving. Accordingly he determined to make the change, and in the general federal elections of 1874 he was returned for Drummond-Arthabaska by a majority of two hundred and thirty-eight.

In 1874 the Liberal Government at Ottawa, under Alexander Mackenzie, seemed assured of a long term of office. It had been given an overwhelming majority in the election just concluded; its leaders were able and aggressive; and the Opposition was still crushed by the indignation which followed on the exposure of the Pacific Scandal.

Yet there were many weaknesses in its situation, which time was to make clear. The Government's forces were not closely united: the only bond holding together several of the groups which made up the majority was that of common opposition to the late administration. Many stragglers on the flanks were waylaid and brought back into their old camp by that arch-strategist, Sir John Macdonald. The question of leadership was not fully determined. In Ontario Edward Blake divided allegiance with {36} Alexander Mackenzie, and Blake's inability to make up his mind definitely to serve under Mackenzie greatly weakened the party. In Quebec the situation was even more serious. Dorion was the man whose constructive ability, admirable temper, and long years of fighting against heavy odds marked him out as chief, but family and health considerations determined him to retire to the quieter if not less heavy labours of the bench. Fournier soon followed. Laflamme, in whose office Laurier had studied, was hardly a man of sufficient weight. Holton, leader of the small group of English Liberals in Quebec, was also in very poor health. To fill the gap Mackenzie summoned Joseph Cauchon, a former Conservative who had left his party on the Pacific Scandal; a man of great ability, active in the campaign for Confederation, but weakened by an unfortunate record of corruption in earlier days, a record which his Liberal opponents of those days had painted in startling and unforgettable colours.



These difficulties were, however, not insuperable; and doubtless the party would have drilled into working cohesion under definitely acknowledged leaders, had it not been for two more serious sources of {37} weakness. The first of these was the commercial depression which fell upon Canada, in common with the rest of the world, in 1873, and made it possible for an Opposition, itself most courageous in promises, to hold the Government responsible for all the country's ills. The other was Mr Mackenzie's high-minded but mistaken idea of his duty. Somewhat lacking in imagination though he was, Alexander Mackenzie had in him the stuff out of which party leaders are made. He was a man of vigour and ability, a hard-hitting debater, a thoroughgoing democrat, and he had a well-earned reputation for downright frankness and unswerving honesty which could easily have rallied the country's trust and affection. But while prime minister he gave to the details of departmental administration the care and thought and time which should have gone in part to his other duties as leader in constructive policy and chieftain of the party. He failed to keep in touch with public opinion, and so was caught unawares.

In spite of these drawbacks the Mackenzie administration left a notable record. It passed the law which introduced voting by ballot and required all elections, in a general contest, to be held on one day. It brought {38} forth the Scott Act, which proved a useful if not a final measure of temperance reform. It established the Royal Military College and the Supreme Court of Canada. It pushed the Pacific Railway forward steadily, if somewhat slowly, as a government work. Had the stars been favourable, the Government might well have thought itself secure on its record of legislative progress and administrative efficiency.

The questions which roused most debate both in parliament and in the country were the Riel Amnesty, the National Policy, and, in Quebec, the perennial issue of the relations of church and state. These may be noted in turn, particularly in so far as Mr Laurier took part in the discussions.

For nearly twenty years the Riel question in its various phases bedevilled Canadian politics and set race against race and province against province. Had it been only the resistance offered by the Red River settlers to Canadian authority which was in question in the seventies, time would soon have brought understanding and forgetfulness. That the half-breed settlers had just grievances, that the Canadian authorities bungled badly their first experiment in national expansion, all {39} would have admitted. But the shooting in cold blood of Thomas Scott, an Orangeman of Ontario, by the order of Louis Riel, lit fires of passion that would not easily die. And politicians fanned the flames for party ends. Neither party was guiltless. At the outset in Ontario the Liberals played to the Orange gallery, while in Quebec they appealed to French prejudices. Sir John Macdonald could attack Blake for frightening Riel out of the country and beyond the reach of justice, by offers of reward for his arrest, at the very time that Macdonald himself was paying Riel out of the secret service funds to keep away from Canada.

During the Mackenzie administration the question twice gave rise to full-dress debates. Early in 1874 Mackenzie Bowell moved that Riel, who had been elected a member for Provencher, should be expelled from the House; Holton moved an amendment that action be deferred until the committee, then inquiring into the whole matter, reported; while Mousseau demanded immediate and unconditional amnesty. In the debate that followed Mr Laurier made his first parliamentary speech in English. He supported Holton's amendment, while making it clear {40} that in his view of the evidence the country had been pledged to amnesty by the action of the former Government. It was a forceful and well-reasoned argument, in both its felicitous phrasing and its moderate tone an appropriate introduction to the parliamentary career which was just beginning. Again in 1875, when Mr Mackenzie moved that full amnesty be given to all concerned in the rebellion save Riel, Lepine, and O'Donoghue, and that the former two be pardoned, subject to five years' banishment, Mr Laurier defended this reasonable compromise against both the Quebec extremists who demanded immediate pardon and the Ontario opponents of any clemency whatever.

Protection was an even more fertile topic of debate in these and following years. It was only recently that it had become a party issue. Both parties had hitherto been content with the compromise of 'tariff for revenue, with incidental protection,' though in the ranks of both were advocates of out-and-out protection. In Ontario the Canada First movement, which looked to Blake as its leader, had strong protectionist leanings, and in Quebec the Parti National, under which name the Rouges had been reorganized and made {41} ultra-respectable, were of the same tendency. But Mackenzie was a staunch free-trader, while the Liberals from the maritime provinces were opposed to any increase in the tariff on the many things they consumed but did not produce. Accordingly, after much hesitation, the Liberals in 1876 declined to raise the tariff beyond the existing average of seventeen and a half per cent. At once the Conservatives, who, it was alleged, had been prepared to advocate freer trade, came out for protection. On this question Laurier was more in agreement with Blake than with Mackenzie. In early years he had been influenced by Papineau's crusade for protection, and believed that in the existing crisis an increase in the tariff to twenty per cent would aid the revenue and would avert a demand for more extreme duties. Time proved, however, that the appetites of protectionists could not so easily be appeased; and all wings of the party presently found themselves in harmony, in resisting the proposals to set up extremely high barriers.

But it was on the vexed question of the relations of church and state, and particularly of the Catholic hierarchy and the Liberal party in Quebec, that Mr Laurier gave the most distinctive service. This question had become {42} more acute than ever. In 1870 the ultramontane element in the Roman Catholic Church had won a sweeping victory by inducing a majority of the Vatican Council to promulgate the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. There followed a wave of ultramontane activity throughout the world, and not least in Quebec. Bishop Bourget's hands were strengthened by Bishop Lafleche of Three Rivers, and by other prelates and priests of perhaps less relentless temper; while a cohort of journalists, in Le Nouveau Monde, La Verite, Le Journal de Trois Rivieres, and other papers, devoted themselves whole-heartedly to the ultramontane cause. On the other hand, Archbishop Baillargeon of Quebec and his successor, Archbishop Taschereau, the priests of the Quebec Seminary and of Laval University, and the Sulpicians at Montreal, were disposed to live at peace. They would all have denied sympathy either with Gallicanism or with Catholic Liberalism, but they were men of tolerance and breadth of sympathy, very doubtful whether such militant activity would advance the permanent interests of their Church.

There broke out a violent struggle between the two political parties in 1871, with the issue {43} of the Catholic Programme. This famous document was a manifesto prepared by a group of editors and lawyers, who, in their own words, 'belonged heart and soul to the ultramontane school'—Trudel, Desjardins, M'Leod, Renault, Beausoleil, and others—and was drawn up by A. B. Routhier, then a lawyer in Kamouraska. It sought to lay down a policy to govern all good Catholics in the coming elections. The doctrine of the separation of church and state, the document declared, was impious and absurd. On the contrary, the authorities of the state, and the electors who chose them, must act in perfect accord with the teachings of the Church, and endeavour to safeguard its interests by making such changes in the laws as the bishops might demand. To secure this end the Conservative party must be supported. When two Conservatives or two Liberals were running, the one who accepted the Programme was to be elected; where a Conservative and a Liberal were opposed, the former would be supported; if it happened that a Conservative who opposed the Programme was running against a Liberal who accepted it, 'the situation would be more delicate'—and Catholics should not vote at all.


This frank declaration of war on the Liberal party, this attempt to throw the solid Catholic vote to the Conservatives, at once aroused violent controversy. Bishops Bourget and Lafleche announced that they approved the manifesto in every point, while Archbishop Taschereau and the bishops of St Hyacinthe and Rimouski declared that it had not their authorization.

The Liberal party was sorely pressed. In the emergency some of its moderate members determined to throw off the incubus of their anti-clerical traditions by reorganizing and renaming the party. So in 1871 Louis Jette and other leading Quebec Liberals undertook to secure a fresh start by organizing the Parti National, and the result of the following elections gave some ground for hope. 'This evolution of the Liberal party,' declared Bishop Lafleche later in a memorial to the Cardinals of the Sacred Congregation, 'had the success expected from it; it made a number of dupes not only among our good Catholics but even in the ranks of the clergy, who had hitherto been united against the Liberal party.... It is from this development that there dates the division in the ranks of the clergy on the question of politics.'


But this prudent step did not avert the wrath of the now dominant ultramontane section. In 1873 a brief pastoral was issued by all the bishops condemning Catholic Liberalism in vague but sweeping terms. Two years later another joint pastoral, that of September 22, 1875, went into the whole question elaborately. Catholic Liberalism, that subtle serpent, was again denounced. The right of the clergy to intervene in politics was again upheld, whether in neutral matters in which they, like all other citizens, should have a voice, or in matters affecting faith or morals or the interests of the Church. In the latter case the clergy should declare with authority that to vote in this or that way is a sin, exposing the offender to the penalties of the Church. In a letter issued a year later Archbishop Taschereau modified these pretensions, but the assault went on. Regarding the identity of the Catholic Liberals in question both pastorals were silent, but not silent were many of the clergy who interpreted them to their flocks. The cap fitted the Liberal party and its chiefs, they averred, and good Catholics must govern themselves accordingly.

This determined attempt of a section of the {46} clergy to use the influence they possessed as spiritual guides to crush one political party aroused the most moderate sections of the Liberals to counter-attacks. The election law of Canada, copied from that of England, forbade the use of undue influence in elections, and undue influence had been said to include use by ecclesiastics of their powers to excite superstitious fears or pious hopes. Baron Fitzgerald had declared in the Mayo case in Ireland, in 1857, that the priest must not use threats of punishment here or hereafter, must not threaten to withhold the sacraments or denounce voting for any particular candidate as a sin. The Liberals of Quebec had no desire to deny the priest the same rights as other citizens enjoyed, of taking part in the discussion of any political question whatever, and using all the powers of persuasion to secure this end. But, they insisted, for a priest to threaten eternal punishment was as much a case of undue influence as for an employer to threaten to dismiss a workman if he would not vote for a certain candidate, and as just a ground for voiding an election. The matter was pressed to a decision in appeals against candidates returned in two federal by-elections, in Chambly and Charlevoix, and {47} in one provincial election, in Bonaventure. In these instances the proof of open partisanship and open use of ecclesiastical pressure was overwhelming. 'The candidate who spoke last Sunday,' declared one priest in Chambly, 'called himself a moderate Liberal. As Catholics you cannot vote for him; you cannot vote for a Liberal, nor for a moderate Liberal, for moderate is only another term for liar.' 'The Church has condemned Liberalism, and to vote against the direction of the bishops would be sin,' declared another. 'The sky of heaven is bleu, the fire of hell is rouge,' another more pointedly urged. 'I was afraid,' one witness testified, 'that if I voted for Tremblay I should be damned.' In defence it was urged that, in the first place, the civil courts had no authority over ecclesiastics, at least for acts done in their spiritual capacity, and, in the second place, that the Church had a right to defend its interests against attack, and that in using to this end all the powers at its disposal it was employing no undue influence. Judge Routhier, the author of the Catholic Programme, upheld these contentions in the first trial of the Charlevoix case, but the Supreme Court, in judgments delivered by Mr Justice Taschereau, brother of {48} the Archbishop, and by Mr Justice Ritchie, denied the existence of any clerical immunity from civil jurisdiction, and found that the threats which had been made from the pulpit constituted undue influence of the clearest kind. Accordingly they voided the election. Their action met with violent protests from some of the bishops, who, when Judge Casault in the Bonaventure case followed this precedent, sought, but in vain, to have him removed by the Sacred Congregation from his chair in the law faculty of Laval. But in spite of protests the lesson had been learned, and the sturdy fight of the Liberals of Quebec for the most elementary rights of a free people had its effect.



It was when matters were at this acute stage that Wilfrid Laurier came forward to do for his province and his country a service which could be accomplished only by a man of rarely balanced judgment, of firm grasp of essential principles, of wide reading and familiarity with the political ideals of other lands, and, above all, of matchless courage. Rarely, if ever, has there been delivered in Canada a speech of such momentous importance, or one so firmly based on the first principles with which Canadian statesmen too rarely concern {49} themselves, as that which he addressed to Le Club Canadien, a group of young Liberals, in Quebec City in June 1877.

The subject of the address was Political Liberalism. The speaker cleared away many misunderstandings. Liberalism did not mean Catholic Liberalism; it had nothing to do with opinions on religion. Nor did it mean Liberalism of the type still prevalent on the continent of Europe, revolutionary, semi-socialist, openly anti-clerical; the type which had been given brief currency by the young men of twenty who thirty years before had lent the Liberal party an undeserved reputation for anti-clericalism. No, the Liberals of Canada found their models and their inspiration in the Liberalism of England, in the men who had fought the battles of orderly freedom and responsible self-government against privilege and selfish interest. As to the Church, no true Liberal wished to deny its officers the right which every citizen enjoyed of taking a part in his country's politics; they had opposed, and would continue to oppose, every attempt of politicians in clerical garb to crush freedom of speech by spiritual terrorism. The right of ecclesiastical interference in politics ceased where it encroached upon {50} the elector's independence. Any attempt to found a Catholic party was not only a crime against the country but was bound to injure the Church itself; it would lead inevitably to the formation of a Protestant party among the majority. On individual freedom alone could a sound national political system be built up, just as on colonial freedom alone had it been possible to build up a lasting imperial system.

The speech was received with enthusiasm throughout the country. Its renunciation at once of anti-clericalism and of ultramontanism, its moderation and its fearlessness, rallied Liberalism to its true standard and marked out clearly the lines within which party and priest alike should act in the interests of church and of country. It was a master-stroke both for freedom and for harmony.

We are to-day sometimes prone to overlook the services of those who in England or in Canada fought for us the battles of political freedom. We tend to forget the services of the political leaders of the thirties and forties who won freedom from class and racial domination, the services of the leaders of the sixties and seventies who won freedom of thought and speech against heavy odds. It has taken a European war to make us realize {51} how precious are those liberties, how many great peoples are still without them, and the height of our debt of gratitude alike to those who won them for us in the past, and to those who preserve them for us in the present.

A few months after this historic address Wilfrid Laurier entered the Mackenzie Cabinet as minister of Inland Revenue. He had been thought eligible for ministerial rank ever since his first entry into the House, and might have had a portfolio in 1876 had it not been that he objected to serve along with Cauchon. The appointment of Cauchon as lieutenant-governor of Manitoba now having cleared the way, Mr Laurier accepted the office and appealed to his constituents for re-election. The tide of opinion had latterly been running strong against the Government, but the great personal popularity of the new minister was deemed an assurance of victory. The Conservatives, however, threw themselves strenuously into the fight, and, much to their own surprise, won the seat by a majority of twenty-nine. The result was due in part to the over-confidence and inactivity of the Liberals, but on the whole it was the handwriting on the wall—a token of the prevailing {52} sentiment against the Government which was shortly to sweep all before it. Another seat was speedily found for the new minister, in Quebec East, and he entered upon a brief year's tenure of office. Though under no illusion as to the failing strength of the Government in the country, he loyally did his best both in the administration of his department and in the campaigning for the party until the debacle came in 1878.



IN OPPOSITION, 1878-1887

The party leadership—Tariff and railway—Dominion and province—The second Riel rebellion

In the general election of September 1878 the Liberal party suffered not merely defeat but utter and overwhelming rout, as unexpected and disastrous as a tropical earthquake. Only five years before, Mackenzie had been swept into power on a wave of moral indignation. The Conservative leaders had appeared hopelessly discredited, and the rank and file dispirited. Now a wave of economic despair swept the Liberals out of power. Their majority of two to one in 1873 was reversed by a Conservative majority of over two to one in 1878. The defeat was not local: every province except New Brunswick went against Mackenzie. Edward Blake, Richard Cartwright, Alfred G. Jones, and other stalwarts lost their seats, and though Sir John Macdonald suffered the same fate in Kingston, and though seats were soon found for the fallen leaders, the blow greatly damaged the prestige of the Liberal party.


Mackenzie was stunned. To the last he had been confident of victory. In spite of the warnings of Charlton, Cartwright, Laurier, and others, he had underestimated the impression which the campaign for protection, with its lavish promises of work and prosperity for all, made even in old Liberal strongholds. He could not believe that the people of Canada would take up the heresies and fallacies which the people of Great Britain had discarded a generation earlier. He would not believe that they were prepared to send back to power men found guilty of corruption only five years before. For these illusions he paid the penalty, in bitter regrets, in loss of touch with the party, in broken health, and at last, in April 1880, in resignation of the leadership. Alexander Mackenzie had deserved well of Canada and of his party; but, apparently, both wanted more than the dauntless courage and the unyielding and stainless honour which were all he had to give them.

There was only one possible successor. Edward Blake had for many years been the choice of a large section of the party in Ontario, and he now became leader by unanimous vote. The new chief was a man of great intellectual capacity, of constructive {55} vision, of untiring thoroughness and industry. He stood easily at the head of the bar in Canada. His short term of office as prime minister of Ontario had given proof of political sagacity and administrative power. He, if any one, it seemed, could retrieve the shattered fortunes of the Liberal party.

Mr Laurier's position as first lieutenant for Quebec was now unquestioned. It was not a wholly enviable post. The Liberal representation from Quebec had fallen to twenty. There were few able men in the ranks. The Dorions were gone. Soon to go too were Holton and Huntington, the English leaders who formed the connecting link between the Liberals of Ontario and the French-speaking Liberals of Quebec. In the Eastern Townships John Henry Pope, that shrewdest and most pugnacious of Conservative politicians, was perfecting the organization which later made him the uncrowned king of several counties. True, Sir George Cartier, who for nearly forty years had dominated Quebec politics, was gone, but Langevin, his successor in the Conservative party, though not a strong man himself, had the clergy behind him; and Chapleau, who entered federal politics in 1882, brought a fiery eloquence to his party's aid. It was {56} clear that the young Liberal leader would have no easy task in winning his province.

Yet he was not content with provincial aims. Each year saw him more widely recognized as a man not of Quebec merely but of all Canada. The issues which arose in these trying years were such as to test to the utmost men's power to rise above local and sectional prejudices and see Canada's interest steadily and see it whole. Mr Laurier did not speak often in these early years, but when he did speak it was with increasing power and recognition. And in the councils of his party the soundness of his judgment became more fully appreciated as each of the great issues of the eighties developed.

The chief of these issues were: the Tariff, the Pacific Railway, Provincial Rights, and the troubles which arose out of the second Riel Rebellion. These may now be summarily reviewed.

Victorious on the issue of protection, the Government more than lived up to its promises in the first tariffs framed. 'Tell us how much protection you want,' Sir John Macdonald had promised the manufacturers, 'and we shall give you what you need.' And whether it {57} was cotton or sugar or furniture, needs and wants were judged to lie not far apart. Purely revenue duties on goods that continued to come in freely, purely protective duties on goods which were practically shut out, and duties which served both ends in some degree, all were advanced.

The Liberals, ex officio, that is, being out of office, opposed these increases one and all. Neither Blake nor Laurier, however, was an out-and-out free-trader like Mackenzie. Mackenzie had received his point of view from his British upbringing; his colleagues had been brought up on a continent where protection ruled. Blake, after a session or two, seemed content to accept the country's verdict and criticized chiefly the details of the N.P., as the National Policy of Protection to Native Industries was affectionately called by its supporters. Laurier, while admitting that in theory it was possible to aid infant industries by tariff pap, criticized the indiscriminate and excessive rates of the new tariff, and the unfair burden it imposed upon the poorer citizens by its high specific rates on cheap goods. But in 1880, after a night of seven years, prosperity dawned in America. The revival of business in the United States {58} proved as contagious in Canada as had been its slackening in the early seventies. The Canadian people gave the credit for the improvement in health to the well-advertised patent medicine they had taken just before the change set in; and for some years all criticisms of the N.P. were fated to fall on deaf ears.

Then came the contract for the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the tariff question was shelved. Both parties were committed to build the road to the coast. Both had wavered between public and private construction. But the Macdonald Government had now decided upon pushing the road through with all speed, regardless as to whether current revenues sufficed to build it, while the Opposition advocated a policy of gradual construction within the country's means, concurrent with a close and steady settlement of the western plains. The Government's first plan of building the road out of the proceeds of the sale of a hundred million acres of prairie lands proved a flat failure. Then in 1880 a contract for its construction and operation was made with the famous Canadian Pacific Syndicate, in which the leading figures were a group of Canadians who {59} had just reaped a fortune out of the reconstruction of a bankrupt Minnesota railway—George Stephen, Richard B. Angus, James J. Hill, and in the background, Donald A. Smith.[1]

Under Blake's leadership instant and determined attack was made upon the bargain, in parliament, in the press, and on the platform. Blake himself moved against it a resolution of over a hundred clauses, which, as usual, exhausted the subject and left little for his lieutenants to say. Mr Laurier particularly criticized the large land-grant and the exemption from taxation. Had the policy of gradual construction been adopted, he contended, it would not have been necessary to take a leap in the dark and give the syndicate the power of a monopoly in the western country: 'there might have been fewer millionaires in this country, but there would have been many more happy and contented homes.'

The Government was, however, committed, and a party majority ratified the contract. After events justified both the policy of the Government and, to some extent, the criticism of the Opposition. Great national interests were at stake. Nothing short of an {60} all-Canadian railway could bind together the far-flung Dominion. But the building of this railway, and still more its operation, would be a task to daunt all but the most fearless, and to those who undertook it generous terms were a necessity. In their clear understanding and courageous grasp of the facts, and in their persistent support of the company through all the dark days until the railway was completed, Macdonald and Tupper and Pope deserved well of their country. Yet it is equally clear now that in many points the criticism of the Opposition was well founded. The land-grant was of least value when most needed—in the early years. The freedom of the company to select land where they pleased gave them a mortgage on the West and power to deter possible rival roads. The exemption from taxation of the company's lands for twenty years after the issue of the patents, and of its capital stock and equipment for ever, threw unfair burdens upon the straggling settlers. Still more threatening to national unity was the monopoly clause, guaranteeing the company for twenty years against the chartering, either by the Dominion or by any province afterwards established, of any road enabling United States railways to tap western traffic.


The issue was decided, as to any immediate effects, by the success of the Conservatives in the general elections of 1882. The country wanted the road, and as usual was not disposed to read too closely the fine print in the contract. But the matter did not end there. Each party had been led by attack and counterattack to take a stronger stand of defence or opposition than was reasonable. For another ten years the Canadian Pacific Railway remained, if not an issue in politics, itself an active participant in politics. And its great weight thrown against the Liberal party turned the scales more than once.

In every federal state the adjustment of the powers of the central and of the local authorities gives occasion for much friction and difference of opinion. In Canada this adjustment, though never-ending, perhaps reached its climax in the eighties, when question after question as to the rights of the provinces came up for discussion.

We are apt to forget how recent a development the modern federal state is. Save for certain Latin-American countries, nominally federal, the Dominion of Canada is the third oldest of such states; the United States and {62} Switzerland alone are of longer standing. The Austro-Hungarian Empire and the North German Federation were formed in the same fateful year, 1867. There were, therefore, few models before the framers of the constitution of Canada, and the marvel is that they planned so wisely and so enduringly.

In determining what powers should be assigned to the Dominion and what to the provinces, the Fathers of Confederation were led, by the object-lesson which the Civil War in the United States afforded, to give the central government more authority. To the Dominion they assigned several fields of legislation which in the Republic fell to the respective states; and the Dominion was made residuary legatee of powers not specified. The central government, too, was given a right of veto over all provincial laws and empowered to appoint the lieutenant-governors of the provinces. Had Sir John Macdonald had his way, centralization would have gone much further, for he would have abolished the provincial governments entirely and set up a single parliament for the whole country. Fortunately Cartier and Brown prevented that unwieldy experiment from being tried.

Experience has shown that the central {63} government should have full authority to deal with foreign affairs so far as they can be differentiated, and should have a wide measure of control over commerce and industry, which more and more are nation-wide in scope. But, this secured, it has been found equally essential that the provinces should be given wide power and responsibility. Fortunately Canada has only nine provinces, as against forty-eight states in the United States, so that authority is less divided here than in the Republic. In a country covering half a continent, with great diversity of climate and resources and industrial development, centralization of all power would mean the neglect of local needs and the disregard of local differences. Particularly where, as in Canada, thirty per cent of the people differ in race and language and creed from the majority, and are concentrated mainly in a single province, the need for local autonomy as the surest means of harmony is abundantly clear.

It was in Quebec that the first issue as to provincial rights arose. The Mackenzie Government in 1876 had appointed Luc Letellier de St Just, one of their most steadfast supporters, lieutenant-governor of that province. It was not long before political and {64} personal antagonism strained to the breaking point the relations between the Liberal Letellier and his Conservative ministers at Quebec. The neglect of the premier, M. de Boucherville, to consult Letellier before introducing some railway legislation proved the last straw, and in March 1878 Boucherville was dismissed and Henri Joly de Lotbiniere was called upon to form a Cabinet. This sudden rupture raised a storm of protest in Quebec, of which the echoes soon reached Ottawa. Sir John Macdonald, then leader of the Opposition, moved a vote of censure upon Letellier, which was defeated on a party vote. A year later, after the change of government at Ottawa, a Quebec ministerialist again moved in the House of Commons the resolution of censure.



The Liberal leaders at Ottawa were inclined to agree that Letellier had been too sensitive about his dignity as governor, and Sir John Macdonald on his part would have preferred to let the matter rest, since the elections in the province had upheld Joly, had not his Quebec supporters demanded their pound of flesh. But the constitutional issue was clear, and on this the Liberals rested their case. It was for the people of Quebec, they contended, to {65} decide whether or not the lieutenant-governor had violated their liberties. If the lieutenant-governor could find ministers with a legislative majority behind them to uphold his action, there was nothing more to be said: the doctrine of ministerial responsibility covered all his acts. And this support he had found; for the Joly Government, on appealing to the people, had turned a minority of twenty into a majority of one. 'The people of the province of Quebec,' declared Mr Laurier in the Commons, 'who alone are interested in this question, have decided that in their opinion, whether that be right or wrong, the act of Mr Letellier was just and constitutional.... You say No. What are you here for if you say No? If your policy had been supported by the people of Quebec, you would not now be seeking vengeance at the hands of this House.' But logic was in vain. The vote of censure carried, and Macdonald recommended to the governor-general, the Marquis of Lorne, that Letellier should be dismissed. Here again a nice question of responsibility arose. First the question had been whether the lieutenant-governor was to be guided by provincial ministers or by the federal government which appointed him. Now the problem {66} was whether the governor-general should be guided by his advisers in Canada, or by the British Government which had appointed him. With the assent of the Canadian Cabinet the question was referred to the Colonial Office. Mackenzie's protest against this colonial-minded appeal was in vain, but the upshot proved satisfactory to him. The colonial secretary replied that the lieutenant-governor was undoubtedly responsible to the governor-general for any act, and that equally undoubtedly the governor-general must act upon the advice, in this as in other matters, of his responsible ministers. The governor-general suggested reconsideration, but the Macdonald Cabinet was obdurate and Letellier was dismissed. Fortunately the precedent thus set has not been followed. The principle is now established that a lieutenant-governor may be dismissed only when he cannot find provincial ministers willing and able to support him.

The later constitutional issues were chiefly disputes between the Dominion and the province of Ontario. They were not merely differences of opinion on abstract constitutional points. They were in large part struggles for power and patronage between two very shrewd practical politicians, Sir John {67} Macdonald and his one-time law-student at Kingston, Oliver Mowat, for many years premier of Ontario.

First came a struggle as to the western boundary of Ontario. The dividing line between the old province of Canada and the territories purchased from the Hudson's Bay Company had never been determined After ten years of negotiations a commission, consisting of one representative of the Dominion and one of Ontario together with the British ambassador at Washington, gave a unanimous award in 1878, an award which the Dominion refused to carry into effect. Other provinces were involved. The Dominion had presented Manitoba with much of the territory in dispute, and the conflict as to jurisdiction between that province and Ontario nearly led to bloodshed; while Quebec was stirred up to protest against the enlargement of Ontario, which would make Ontario, it was said, the preponderant power in the Dominion. Mr Laurier inveighed against what he termed the dishonourable course of the Dominion Government. When negotiating with the Hudson's Bay Company for its lands, it had contended that the old province of Canada extended far west and north, but now it took {68} precisely the opposite stand. As for Quebec's interest, he continued: 'I do not fear the appeal that will be made against me in my own province. This award is binding on both parties and should be carried out in good faith. The consideration that the great province of Ontario may be made greater, I altogether lay aside as unfair, unfriendly, and unjust.' The Government, however, persisted in rejecting the award, and forced an appeal to the Privy Council, only to have Ontario's claim fully substantiated, and the total area of the province confirmed as more than double what Sir John Macdonald would have allowed it.

The next issue put to the test the power of the Dominion to veto provincial laws. It was, in form, merely a dispute between two lumbermen, M'Laren and Caldwell, as to whether the one higher up on the stream could use, upon paying tolls, timber-slides built by the other lower down. But, as Edward Blake declared in 1886, this was 'of all the controversies between the Dominion and the provinces, by far the most important from the constitutional point of view, for it involved the principle which must regulate the use by the Dominion Government of the power of disallowing provincial legislation.' When in 1881 a court of {69} justice in Ontario held that the lumberman on the lower reaches could prevent the one higher up from floating down his logs, Mowat had an act passed providing that all persons possessed, and were thereby declared always to have possessed, the right denied by this judgment. This measure was at once disallowed by the Dominion Government. Then the Privy Council upheld the contention of the Ontario Government as to what the law had been even before the act was passed; and, when in 1884 the provincial legislature again passed the same act, the Dominion conceded the point. Thereafter the veto power has been used only when Dominion or Imperial interests were concerned, or when a statute was claimed to be beyond the power of the province to pass. The wisdom or justice of measures affecting only the local interests of the citizens of a province has been left to the judgment of its own people to determine.

The regulation of the liquor traffic provided the next battle-ground. In 1876 Ontario had passed the Crooks Act, which took the power of granting licences from the municipalities and gave it to provincial commissioners. Two years later the Dominion parliament passed the Scott Act, giving counties power to {70} prohibit the sale of liquor within their limits. The constitutionality of this act was upheld in 1882 in the Russell case, and Sir John Macdonald concluded that if the Dominion had power to pass the Scott Act, the province had not the power to pass the Crooks Act. 'If I carry the country,' he declared at a public meeting in 1882, 'as I will do, I will tell Mr Mowat, that little tyrant who has attempted to control public opinion by getting hold of every office from that of a Division Court bailiff to a tavern-keeper, that I will get a bill passed at Ottawa returning to the municipalities the power taken from them by the Licence Act.' At the next session the M'Carthy Act was passed, providing, not for municipal control, but for control by federal commissioners. Here again the highest courts held in 1883 and 1884 that the Ontario measure was within the power of the province, but that the M'Carthy Act was beyond that of the Dominion. Once more 'the little tyrant' had scored!

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