Canada and Colonial Conferences

EDWARD FARRER, IN THE FORTNIGHTLY REVIEW February 1 1906

Canada and Colonial Conferences

EDWARD FARRER, IN THE FORTNIGHTLY REVIEW February 1 1906

SOME day, no doubt, the philosophic historian will account for the reaction that has taken place of late in the attitude of Englishmen towards several important problems. In religion, there has been a return on the part of many to beliefs discarded at the Reformation; in political economy, to the idol of protection, cast down sixty years ago; in national politics, to a type of Imperialism narrower and more aggressive than that in vogue in Palmerston’s days; while in colonial policy, the old notion that, in tariff matters and matters relating to military defence, the interests of the colonies should be distinctly subordinated to those of the Mother Country, appears to be entertained by most Conservatives and by not a few Liberals.

So far as this last change of view is concerned, it must be ascribed, in part at least, to the teachings of Mr. Disraeli. The Lord Derby of 1854 proposed that Canada should be ruled by a King chosen from the Royal Family of England; as if there would be no risk in transplanting hothouse growths of the Old World to the very different environment of the New. Lord Derby took pains to assure us that the King at Ottawa would not interfere too much in behalf of Imperial interests with Canadian legislation. Mr. Disraeli, on the other hand, whilst approving of the grant of self-government to the larger colonies, was of opinion that “it ought to have been accompanied by an Imperial tariff; by securities to the people of England for the enjoyment of the unappropriated lands which belonged to the Sovereign as their trustee; by a military code which should have precisely defined the means and the responsibilities by which the colonies should be defended, and by which, if necessary, this country should call for aid from the colonies themselves;" and lastly, by the institution of “some representative council in the metropolis which would have brought the colonies into constant and continuous relations with the Home Government."

The colonial land question had probably been impressed upon Mr. Disraeli’s mind from his coming in contact with Lord Durham, Mr. Charles Buller, or Mr. Gibbon Wakefield, who, from a brief experience in Canada, argued that the Imperial Government should retain the administration of wild lands in order to provide homes for the surplus population of the United Kingdom, as well as to prevent local politicians from squandering so great an estate. The truth is that in Canada, as in Australia and New Zealand, the greatest amount of waste occurred when the lands were at the disposal of the Imperial authorities, or of the colonization companies which they favored and in some instances subsidized. The other theory, that the lands could be filled with purely British settlers, who would keep the colonies loyal, was a dream. For half a century the bulk of the emigrants from the British Islands have gone, not to the colonies, but to the United States. The prospects are that the Canadian Northwest will ultimately be filled by Americans rather than by Englishmen or Canadians. Without laboring the point, it is safe to assert that no measure of self-government denying them control of the Crown domain would have been acceptable to the Canadian people.

How to create a chamber in London in which the Mother Country and the colonies should each be fairly represented, puzzled the brains of Burke and Adam Smith, of Franklin, Otis and Samuel Adams, on the eve of the American Revolution; and from that time to this no one has hit upon a workable plan. Pownall assumed that it would be just as easy to give the American colonies representation in the Imperial Parliament as, in a previous age, it was to bestow it upon Durham, Chester and Wales—an imperfect analogy employed by some modern Imperialists. On the other side, Adams declared that the Americans could not be adequately represented there, and, if not adequately, “then in effect not at all;" whilst some around him pressed the objection that, even if they could obtain a just representation, they would be foolish to avail themselves of it, since it would end in their having to assume their quota of British debt and taxes. Those Canadians who have thought over the matter at all have reached similar conclusions, or, at best, are unable to get beyond Burke’s confession of despair: “As I meddle with no theory, I do not absolutely assert the impracticability of such a representation; but I do not see my way to it, and those who have been more confident have not been more successful."

As Mr. Disraeli’s other conditions of colonial self-government, namely, an Imperial tariff and colonial aid to Imperial armaments, have been taken up by present-day Imperialists, and will be discussed in whole or in part at the approaching colonial conference, Englishmen may be interested in the opinion entertained by the Liberal rank and file in Canada, so far as one who mixes a good deal with Liberals is competent to express it. The Liberal party has been in office at Ottawa for nearly ten years and is likely to remain there for some time to come.

First, Canada is asked to enter into some sort of pact whereby she shall bear a share of the military and naval expenditure of Britain, which has lately risen from £30,000,000 to over £60,000,000 per annum; and, in addition, shall provide men for those services and shoulder her proportion of such debts as may hereafter be contracted for the wars of the Empire.

The proposal is so remarkable from a Canadian point of view that our politicians hesitate to discuss it publicly. When Liberals discuss it amongst themselves, they usually treat it as an attempt on the part of British Imperialists, who have burdened their country with taxes, to shift a portion of the load to the backs of the Canadian farmer and artisan. Sir Charles Tupper, a former leader of the Conservative party in Canada, wrote not long since that while the policy of levying taxes upon the colonies for the support of the army and navy was "one of the principal attractions of Imperial Federation to many" in England, he believed it to be "founded on misapprehension and fraught with danger." Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the Liberal Premier, is of the same opinion. Canadian Orangemen are ultraloyal, yet when an Orange leader was asked if he favored our accepting this military servitude, he replied that he should as soon vote for transforming Canada into a Jesuit Reduction.

The other proposition is that we should agree to the restoration of the old colonial trade system, at any rate in principle. Under that system the few commodities then exported by the colonies received preferential treatment in the British market, and the colonies, in return, gave like treatment in their markets to British goods. The colonies now export to England a variety of articles which were at that time excluded by the British tariff, or which could not be exported in the ships of the period, or which were not produced for more than home consumption. These, or some of these, would have to be included in any new preferential system.

Mr. Balfour is averse to taxing foreign food and raw materials for the benefit of the colonies; other Imperialists favor it. No one here quite knows, therefore, in what form the Imperial tariff project will be submitted to the conference. I believe I am warranted in saying, however, that Canadian Ministers' would not discuss any scheme from which British taxation of such foreign articles as wheat and flour, lumber, wood pulp, fish, fruit, lead and copper, peas and hay, eggs, cheese and bacon, live animals, etc., was omitted. These are our chief exports to Britain and if we are not to be paid a higher price for them than we get now, it will be useless for her to ask us to give anything like a substantial preference to her wares in our market. For example, the taxation of American and other foreign wheat would not, by itself, be satisfactory; it would suit Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, which are exporters of wheat, but would be of no advantage to the five older provinces and British Columbia, which are importers. In like manner, if foreign lumber alone was taxed, the Northwestern Provinces, which have to import from British Columbia and the United States, would rightly complain that their interests had been ignored. If, then, a preferential policy is to be discussed, it must be one based on the taxation by England of her principal articles of food, as well as of a number of raw materials; indeed, since the other colonies are sure to demand the inclusion of their staples— tea and coffee, sugar, raw cotton, meats and butter, wool, dyes, etc.— we may conclude that it would involve the taxation of almost everything included in those two groups.

Swift said that mythical plots and treasons are sometimes discovered by men in high position “who desire to raise their own characters of profound politicians,” or “to stifle or divert general discontents,” or “to restore new vigor to a crazy Administration.” Canadians are not aware which of these ends Mr. Chamberlain had in mind when he announced that Canada and the other colonies had demanded a British preference as the price of their remaining in the Empire. On the third reading of the Corn Importation Bill, certain members of the House of Lords issued a manifesto in which they predicted that the abolition of the preferential duty on colonial wheat would destroy the “strongest bond of union” between the colonies and the Mother Country, besides “sapping the foundation of that colonial system to which, commercially and politically, this country owes much of its present greatness.” It is for Englishmen to say whether the greatness of their country has been diminished by free trade. All I wish to observe is that Canadians are as sincerely attached to her as ever, the only danger to the connection, at present, lying in Mr. Chamberlain’s attempt to resurrect the colonial system and apply that wretched discard of a bygone age to the greatly altered conditions of Canada and the Empire at large.

We had an experience of that system covering a period of nearly two centuries, long enough to give us the right to speak with some authority. It was introduced while we were a young French colony. As everyone knows, the colonial policy of those times was based on the three M’s — monopoly of monopoly of produce, monopoly of manufacture. By the first and second the colony was precluded from importing from or exporting direct to foreign countries, while by the third it was restricted to the cultivation of food and raw materials, leaving the Mother Country to furnish it with manufactures. The elder Mirabeau likened the colonies to mice kept alive by an owl for her Winter provision; the owl shelters and feeds and coddles them, first taking care, however, to break their legs in order to hinder them from going abroad and becoming the prey of some other owl. Soon after he took hold of colonial affairs, Colbert resolved to make France and her colonies self supporting, or, as his pupil Talon, the intendant at Quebec, had it, self-sufficient. By proclamation of 1669 Canadian fish and Acadian coal were admitted into France free, foreign coal or fish being taxed or prohibited; like treatment was afterwards extended to Canadian peltries, timber, wheat, wooden ships, etc., as well as to sugar, tobacco and spices, from the French West Indies; all of which were to be paid for with French goods, the goods of foreign countries being rigorously excluded from the colonies.

I have not space in which to describe the full effects of this policy. Colbert was a master of detail and tried all the herbs of Saint John, all the devices of mercantilism, in his efforts to found a Western Empire for the greater glory of France. With him, of course, as with Rudyard Kipling, Imperialism meant the “administrative organization of the colonies” for the ultimate benefit of the Mother Country. Bounties, gratuities, and monopolies were showered upon the agriculture, shipping, fishing, and lumbering industries of New France; but the saltpits of Kamouraska were closed that the King’s monopoly in France might gain a little more; while in the Antilles the distilling of rum from molasses was prohibited in the interest of French brandy. On the other hand, the King supplied the colonies with prelates and churches, roads and bridges, grist mills and tanyards, horses and cattle, intrepid explorers and equally intrepid Jesuit missionaries — with everything, in short, but free institutions. He even gave a bounty to those who married early and to those who brought forth large families, refused fur licenses to bachelors and shipped young women of good character from France as wives. In reading the quaint records of the period one can almost hear the prayer of the Breton girl, Patron de filles, Saint Nicolas, mariez nous—ne tardez pas !

Altogether, it was a promising field for an experiment in empire-building, with protection as the corner-stone, yet Colbert and his successors failed miserably. They overlooked the existence of the adjoining English colonies, or rather placed too much reliance on the laws prohibiting intercourse with them, to which were attached penalties ranging from flogging the culprit and branding him with a red-hot fleur-de-lis, to putting him to death. The high tariffs of France, directed against England and Holland, and the minute state regulation of manufacturers, enhanced the price of the French goods sent to the colony to such an extent that the fur trade, the principal industry, passed in great measure to the English buyers on the south. The white man was as keen as the Indian to deal in the most advantageous market, and before long the contraband traffic between Montreal and Albany, Quebec and New England, absorbed much of the energy of the people, to the demoralization of all concerned, including many of the highest civil dignitaries. The derelictions of the officials in this respect led up to graver offences, until at length the Intendant Bigot betrayed the colony to Wolfe, as was commonly supposed, in order to hide his enormous robberies.

It is generally agreed by historians that the collapse of French power in North America was due, primarily, to the inability of the French navy to protect Quebec, Louisburg, and the Atlantic highway. Among secondary causes, an important place must be given to the colonial system, which, together with the fur monopoly, broke down the fur trade, burdened the white settler, and filled the colony with corruption, besides involving France in war with Holland, and thereby leaving her without an ally in the final struggle with England for the possession of Canada.

When Canada passed to Britain the preferential system was soon greatly developed. From beginning to end, however, the preference given in the Canadian market to British goods was, in the main, an imposture. In the first place, being cheaper as a rule than foreign goods, British goods would have sold equally well if there had been no preference; secondly, while the British tariff gave a very substantial preference to Canadian exports, from the burdens incident to which there was no escape for the British consumer, we in Canada obtained a considerable measure of relief from the effects of our preference to British goods by smuggling in American goods that were better adapted to our climatic and other conditions. To put it in another way, while the British people had to pay a higher price for such commodities as we sold them than they would have had to pay if like commodities from foreign countries had been admitted at the same rate, we tempered the British monopoly in manufactures within Canada by following the French Canadian example—Preferentialists by day, we became Free Traders at night. Then again we turned an honest penny by clandestinely importing American lumber, wheat, flour, furs, and potash, and shipping them to England as Canadian, that they might get the benefit of the British preferential; cases are recorded where wheat was brought from Archangel and timber from Memel and sent back across the Atlantic to Liverpool or Bristol with these false certificates of origin. Long before Hume’s committee of 1840 had demonstrated it, it was apparent to observe on the spot that the preferential arrangement with Canada was nothing short of a gross imposition upon Britain.

The restraints of the colonial system had much to do with the revolt of the American colonies, and now the discrimination against the foreigner and in favor of the British colonist and the British landlord, was responsible to some extent for the lodgment of Protectionist doctrines in the United States. “England will not take our wheat, pork, or maize,’’ was the cry, “we must therefore build up a home market to consume them.’’ The navigation laws and colonial trade regulations were at the bottom of the ill-feeling which arose between Great Britain and the United States shortly after the War of Independence had culminated, other causes aiding, in the War of 1812.

Without doubt Canada profited by the colonial system, although not to the extent that might be supposed. Our tariff was framed by Downing street, but the local legislatures were allowed to impose light duties for revenue. What was given with one hand was largely taken away with the other. Our people complained without ceasing of the stupidity of the Imperial authorities who constructed the tariff, of the navigation laws, of the severe fluctuations in the price of wheat in England under the operation of the sliding scale, of the official exclusion of the provinces from the American market, both as buyers and sellers; in short, of the failure of the system to render the colony prosperous. As early as 1816 they began to clamor for reciprocity with the United States. In 1836 the Upper Canada Legislature petitioned the King for it in a very able document. One of the gravest evils of the situation was the constant interference of Imperial Ministers on behalf of the British monopoly. All through the piece they treated us, in Lowell’s words, as “inferior and deported Englishmen.” The Canadian timber and shipping interests regarded the colonial system as the cause of much of their prosperity, but everyone else in Canada rejoiced when the “old nightmare” was abolished between 1842 and 1849.

I have given this bare outline of the working of the preferential policy in Canada by way of suggesting how difficult it would be to restore it at this time of day, what meagre results England and the colonies might expect from it, and to what risks, from the arousing of foreign and domestic enmities, it would expose them. It gave birth in Canada to a school which aimed at and finally succeeded in imposing heavy duties on British goods. It was argued that the admission of those goods at nominal rates hindered us from establishing home manufactures, drained us of money and swelled the exodus. These advocates of localized protection also dwelt, as they dwell now, on what it had done for the United States; forgetting that the United States could probably make headway under a Turkish Pasha.

No one acquainted with the genuine opinions of the Canadian people believes that they could be induced, under any circumstances, to accept the colonial system again, or any modification of it that threatened their home industries, in which $500,000,000 is invested, or curtail the tariff-making power they have enjoyed since 1843. Liberals and Conservatives alike support the present high tariff; and when they argue that a factory in Canada is as beneficial to the Empire as one in Leeds or Manchester, how are those Englishmen who are in the habit oi “thinking Imperially” going to answer them? Those of us who still hold by free trade are now an insignificant minority; we should feel that we were gaining ground if we could count on a dozen members in a House of over 200. The latest proclamation from the manufacturers’ association, which is a sort of imperium in imperio, is that Canadian industries must be protected as securely against British as against German or American competition; and, so far as one can see, the country is overwhelmingly with them.

We are somewhat puzzled by the accounts which English Imperialists give of the magic that is to be wrought by their Mumibo Jumbo. Thev assure us that it will not injure Canadian manufactures, yet tell the British artisan that it will immensely extend the colonial market for his wares. They say it will not raise the price of food in England, yet will put more money in the pocket of the colonial food-grower. It is to protect the British farmer and at the same time make the Canadian Northwest the granary of the world, overwhelming him with its wheat. To us, the whole project appears to be a bundle of contradictions such as our protectionists, who do not stick at trifles, would be ashamed to father. The Northwest will be one of the chief granaries of the world before long, all the sooner if Congress should remove the duty on wheat for the benefit of American mills and of the American consumer of flour. Nothing that English Imperialists could do for us at the expense of the British people could equal the advantages we should derive from the abolition of the American tariff on our natural products. Curiously enough, they contend that it is un-British for us to talk of reciprocity with our neighbors, while it is eminently British for themselves to propound a policy that would compel England to feed her colonies, as the fabled pelican her young, from her own entrails.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier has given a preference to British goods. When it took effect in 1898 the preference was 25 per cent, off the regular duties; in 1900 it was increased to 33 1-3 per cent. Sir Wilfrid desired to benefit the British exporter as well as the Canadian consumer. It cannot be said, however, that it has worked wonders for Britain. Our imports from Britain have certainly grown, but is the growth due altogether to the preference, seeing that our imports from the United States have increased much more? Anyone who peruses the Canadian trade returns in detail cannot help concluding that, not Britain, but the United States, is our natural market. It may be allowable for England, as a matter of policy, to discourage Canada, Newfoundland, and the West Indies, from entering into commercial union with the United States, on the ground that political union might follow. That may be right and proper from an Imperialist view. But, in speaking of the manner of treating colonies, Burke laid down a higher principle: “It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do, but what humanity, reason and justice tell me I ought to do.”

There is a more Considerable issue at stake, however, than the trade issue or the future of the Canadian militia. To put it plainly, Imperialists are endeavoring to persuade Canada to return to forms of government she has long outgrown, in order, as they conceive, that she may become more useful, not to herself, but to the Mother Country. It would have been a lighter thing, we are told, to make the shadow on the dial of Ahaz go forward ten degrees than to make it go back ten; and surely when a change takes place in the relations between England and the larger colonies, it will not be a retrograde movement but an advance on their part to complete political independence. Canada will shortly demand the treaty-making power, to be exercised under limitations. The subject has been discussed at public meetings by Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and when we look back at the seaboards and vast inland regions of priceless value that we have lost through relying on British negotiators who had interests other than ours to serve, most of us hail the movement with satisfaction. By and by, there will be a demand for the right to elect the governor-general. We are tired of the “prancing proconsuls” appointed of late; they pay no heed to the warning, “O rois soyez grands, car le peuple grandit.” When that is conceded we shall be six million New World citizens wholly free. But for this we are content to wait. For a young country Canada is tolerably safe from Utopian impatience.

Our Imperialist brethren have chosen this time for seeking to throw us back to the conditions of our infancy, when we had to submit to an endless amount of interference and dictation from well-meaning outsiders who really knew nothing about us. We had a hard fight for responsible government, which was for us articulus libertatis aut servitutis. Responsible government brought us the liberty to frame our tariff in our own way, even to the infliction of injury on ourselves; the control of expenditure and the choosing of Ministers, who, putting constitutional fictions aside, are more powerful than the Crown. The Bill of Rights would be mutilated out of recognition by the success of the Imperialist programme. The predominant partner would, of course, have a controlling voice in the construction and amendment of the joint or Imperial tariff. It is conceivable that this Imperial tariff might be better for Canada than any local tariff the Canadian Parliament could put together. That is not the point. The point is that, having won the tariff-making power through much effort, our best interests require that we should keep it intact and within our exclusive possession, though not the Empire only, but the heavens should fall. The whole programme, so far as it relates to Canada—not forgetting the plank that we should send the young Canadian to fight the Empire’s battles, or, possibly, Mr. Chamberlain’s battles, in Africa and Asia, filling his place with the sweepings of Europe—is as hopeless in its way as that of those Jacobite survivals who meet in London and Edinburgh and solemnly resolve that it is England’s duty to bring back the Stuarts, together with all the old prerogatives. If Imperialists desire to retain Canada a while longer, let them cease striving for the “administrative organization of the colonies,” for “uniformity within the Empire”—the same fighting men, the same fighting tariffs. The rage for uniformity has contributed as much as anything else to the barrenness of the colonial enterprises of France, and could scarcely fail to bring a vast omnium gatherum like the British Empire to speedy destruction. The old building, it has been said, stands well enough with its composite architecture, but let an attempt be made to square it into uniformity and “it may come down on our heads altogether, in much uniformity of ruin.” Rather let Englishmen prepare for the inevitable evolution of the colonies into independent nations, bound to England by a filial affection stronger than any artificial ligament.