The Colonial Premiers
Mr. Osborn gives a sketch of the seven colonial premiers now in attendance at the Imperial conference. A forecast is given of the stand which each representative will take at the conference.
E. B. OSBORN IN MONTHLY REVIEW
THERE can be little doubt as to which of the four "primary topics” on the agenda paper of the Imperial Conference, which met on April 15, is regarded as most vitally important by the seven Premiers from beyond "the dim strait wall of wandering wave,” who are to be the nation’s guests. The majority of them are well aware that only the materials for Empire-building, and not an actual Empire, are indicated by the scattered red patches on the world’s map. It follows, in the opinion of this majority, that the time for setting up an Imperial Council is not yet come, and that no co-ordinated scheme of Imperial defence is practicable for the present. It is a waste of time talking over the form and matter oí a constitution for a polity that is as yet merely an Empire in becoming. The material bonds which connect the sister States and the Mother Country must first of all be strengthened, and that end can only be achieved effectually by means of treaties of mutual preference. That a Government created by the unthinking mob eager for panem et circenses (the big loaf and professional football) is unwilling to consider their proposals seriously must not prevent us from considering our guests as protagonists of Imperial Preference, the thoughts of each on that great topic being more or less colored by his political environment.
British North America is the oldest wing of the Empire, for which reason precedence over the rest shall be granted to its representatives in the war against insular free trade. Moreover, none of the living documents of Imperial history is' quite so interesting as Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who has now held the Canadian Premiership for eleven years. It is a characteristic of the Canadian people to choose the great man for their Premier, if there be a man who is obviously better than the rest of the crowd
in the political arena, without troubling much about the party label which he wears. A little anecdote will serve to illustrate this point. After a general election during the long reign (187&-96) of the Conservative party, an elector in a small Ontario town, who disapproved of the National Policy for the time being, was asked by a friend to explain why he had gone back on his political conscience and voted for the Conservatives. "Political conscience and the Conservatives be hanged !” was the reply ; "I voted for Sir John A.” In 1896, when the Liberal party, which liad been cold welded into solidarity by long years in Opposition, was returned to power, Sir John A. Macdonald had been dead for five years and his successor, Sir John Thompson, the equal of his more famous chief in knowledge of political strategy, though inferior as a tactician, had also passed away. There was no commanding personality on the Conservative side, no personage who could bring the malcontents into line and keep them in the front of the battle. Sir Charles Tupper did his heroic best. Considering his age and the fact that he had been High Commissioner— that is to say, Canada’s Ambassador to the Mother Country—and out of politics for many years, the long sequence of his vigorous campaign speeches proved him possessed of a more than Gladstonian vitality. But he had lost touch with his party ; the power of political intuition—a quality not essentially different from the journalistic instinct—had been lost during his tenure of an office which is above and beyond the standpoint of a party leader.
The choice of the people fell on Mr. Wilfrid Laurier, who had performed the thankless task of leading the Opposition since the resignation of Mr. Edward Blake with eloquence, tact, and a fine courtesy which won him the regard, almost the affectionate regard, of his
greatest opponent. Before he undertook that difficult task—infinitely more difficult for a Canadian and a Roman Catholic that it would have been for Sir Richard Cartwright or for the late Mr. Mills, the only other possible candidates for the Liberal leadership—his ideal of happiness had been that of Edmond Scherer : “to work, to content
one’s self with a little, to lose without bitterness, to grow old without regret.” Perhaps no higher praise could be paid to a leader of the Opposition in the Dominion House of Commons than to say that, despite the strain and worry of creating his party anew, he kept that ideal in public life. I have been told by a constant observer of his conduct in the Dominion House of Commons that he never aroused the wrath of Sir John Macdonald, as was often done by lesser men with lesser arguments. His ave atque vale for that keen-sighted politician and far-sighted statesman is perhaps the most memorable of all speeches ever made in the House. He admitted the greatness of his opponent, whom he compared with Pitt—one of the best historical parallels ever suggested—and analyzed it in a way which proved that he knew the old lion by heart. Really to understand the large and ample spirit of the man in the days before he became Premier, it is at least necessary to read this valedictory—it is to be found in Pope’s Life of Sir John Macdonald—and his 1877 oration on “Le Liberalism Politique,” uttered at Quebec during the ultramontane reaction, which latter is given in full in Mr. Willison’s excellent biography of the Speaker. “En effet,” runs a passage in that pivotal utterance, “nous Canadiens francais, nous sommes une race conquise. . . Mais, si nous sommes une
race conquise, nous avons aussi fait une conquête—la conquête de la liberte.” It is, and always has been, the chief axiom of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s political creed that the second conquest restores to his people all that was lost by the first—and something more. Using this axiom as the basis of his political practice, he stood out from his surroundings on the eve of the general election in 1896, when the Manitoban schools ques-
tion might have revived the old bitterness of a racial and religious antithesis, as the only possible reconciler of FrenchCanadian and British-Canadian aspirations. At that time, when it was also clear that he had repented of his one great mistake—the advocacy of a closer commercial connection with the United States—not because repentance was a profitable policy, but because he had become convinced that the main current of Canadian commerce must run from west to east, and not from south to north, there was no reason "why he should not be preferred even to one of the “Fathers of Confederation” by a generation which thought that the part was being played in too heavy a style. Young Canada gave the younger man the opportunity he desired, and there is no denying that he has used it with distinction.
Let his record during the past eleven years be considered. In the first place, he has succeeded in settling the question of separate schools in the Western Provinces. The settlement has been a compromise, which naturally does not satisfy the Quebec heirarchy. But it avoided further friction between the Federal authority and the Provincial Governments of a great and growing community, and gave substantial effect to a decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Furthermore, the agreement as embodied in the statutes of Manitoba has worked satisfactorily on the whole. Thus a temporary breakdown of the intricate machinery of Confederation was avoided, and a strain taken off a constitutional link between Great Britain and Canada—i.e., the legal authority of the Privy Council. That the people of Quebec regarded the settlement as equitable for the Roman Catholics of the West was demonstrated at the general election of 1900, when out of a total representation of sixtyfive he carried fifty-eight seats, as compared with forty-eight in 1896, despite the undeniable fact that the Frenchspeaking Canadians did not approve of sending troops to South Africa. In his attitude in Imperial issues Sir Wilfrid Laurier ha« invariably followed the via media between the opinion of Quebec
and the opinion of the majority in the rest of the Dominion. As regards the question of a fixed contribution in money or men or warships towards the cost of Imperial defence, his position is that of the ordinary Canadian, who does not yet understand that the British Navy, together with its developed landing-party—that is to say, the British Army—is the only security for the integrity of Canada’s territory and her commercial independence. In two matters of importance in regard to Imperial defence Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s excessive caution—a fault of the statesmen of compromise which has grown on him of late years—has certainly prevented him from making the best use of an opportunity. When ever}* British Canadian from the Atlantic to the Pacific was anxious that Canada should take the lead in offering a contingent for South Africa, he hesitated—and lost a part of his prestige in all the Englishspeaking provinces.
Again, in the Dundonald affair he missed a great opportunity. In view of the unconstitutional form of Lord Dundonald’s protest against Mr. Fisher’s intervention in the appointment of militia officers, he was compelled to dispense with the soldier's services. The speech in which he justified that decision was, in matter and manner, a rebuke to those of his supporters who collected about the Minister of Agriculture, after the delivery of his mean and low-pitched explanation, and sang “He's a daisy.” There can be no doubt that Lord Dundonald chose the best means to a great end when he perpetrated his historic act of insubordination. The King’s coat is no longer regarded, in practice or even in theory, as part and parcel of the Canadian minor politician’s patronage. The use of the word “foreigner” in this controversy, which will always be cast up against Sir Wilfrid, was a mere slip of the tongue of one who sometimes thinks in French even when he speaks in English. Sir John Macdonald would certainly have dismissed Lord Dundonald, but he would also have dispensed with the services of Mr. Fisher— after a decent interval had elapsed to save the face of the agricultural expert. As re-
gards preferential trade, Sir Wilfrid cannot justly be accused of an excess of caution. The British preference was granted by him at the earliest possible moment, despite the disapproval of the Cabinet Ministers from Quebec, and his first outspoken declaration in favor of the principle of Mr. Chamberlain’s proposals—it is clear that he thinks a practicable scheme of commercial federation can be gradually built up by concurrent legislation or co-ordinated “treaties of commerce”—came at the psychological moment as a full reply to Lord Rosebery’s reasoned misinterpretation of Canadian fiscal policy. On the whole, he must be reckoned a much better Imperialist than any’ Liberal in this country. Seeing that the chief work of his life —the confirmation of the entente cordiale between the French and British Canadians—is now finished, we must not complain if he leaves to Mr. W. S. Fielding, heir-apparent to the Liberal leadership, the long labor of teaching Canada to think and act Imperially. In the Canadian confederacy Quebec, more than two millions thinking politically as one and enlarging their sphere of political influence without discontinuity, much as a spash of ink spreads in blottingpaper, is still the predominant partner. Nobody can appreciate the greatness and understand the limitations of Sir Wilfrid Laurier without descending to the political standpoint of the habitant who is in, but not of, the Empire. Sit Wilfrid Laurier, as politician, is great because he can always rely on the support of the Quebec countryman, who sees in him a magnified image—a Brocken spectre, as it were—of his own personality. He is by far the greatest man in the world for that simple-subtle rustic. But as a statesman Sir Wilfrid Laurier is great—the greatest of all French Canadians that are or have been —because by slow degrees, diplomatically, with infinite pains, he is leading the habitant into a higher plane of political thinking. There was a time when Sir Wilfrid Laurier was accused of “veiled treason” and a desire to break the Imperial connection. The charge was false, though it is still uttered by partisans. But there never was a time when Sir
Wilfrid Laurier was not guilty of a discreetly disguised Imperialism in his dealings with Quebec. Quebec is not yet converted to a wider outlook by his splendid inconsistency. She sent a mere handful of townsmen to South Africa : she is neither for nor against the consolidation of the Empire. But, if Sir Wilfrid Laurier lives long enough, Quebec will become more than passively Imperialist. It may well be that the next generation will be active in Imperialism. Meanwhile we must remember that, all said and done, the French Canadian would sooner die than be drawn into the “orbit” of the United States and swallowed up in that wide welter of mortality, as were his fellow immigrants in Louisiana.
Howsoever reluctantly, Newfoundland, the first of the’ insular stepping-stones to . the transcontinental colony, must some day7 become the tenth province of the Dominion. Until the building of the transinsular railway and the establishment of steamship lines bringing the “outports” into regular communication with St. John’s and the Canadian haven of North Sydney7—all this was the work of Mr. R. G. Reid—Newfoundland was a mere circuit of fishing hamlets, shut off from the outer world. Then the Newfoundlander looked eastward toward St. John’s, the window in which the phantasmagoria of British politics could be dimly discerned. His broad back was turned flatly on Canada—a land of foreigners, as he believed, who would use his babies for gun-wadding if he consented to enter Confederation. Now he looks westward for employment between one fishing season and the next, or for capital to use in his small business, and the old horror of the mainland and its inhabitants has dwindled into mere distrust. The removal of the French condominium and the breakdown of the fishing monopoly knowm as “Water Street” (from the name of the “down-along” thoroughfare of the capital) have given him prosperity and a new sense of nationality and renewed courage in the great task, the importance of which is not yet appreciated in his Mother Country7, of asserting his right to the ownership of the Grand
Banks. That great submerged plateau, thronged with the swift silvery squadrons of innumerable cod, is the Rand of the world’s fisheries. It is a British possession by right of discovery. In the day7s of Elizabeth it was also the scene of a great annual market, since the Norman, Breton, and Basque fishing-vessels journeyed thither not only to catch cod, the staple victualling for the armies and navies of that age, but also to exchange goods with the English fishing masters By means of the profit from this twofold business, Bristol and other ports of the west country grew into greatness as citadels of commerce and schools of admiralty. Every acre of that plateau is a sunken English churchyard ; each wave out of the white mist is a wandering grave, a shaken pall ; vague hie jacets, in the soft' tongue of Devon or Cornwall, are heard in the wind’s passing. I call to mind the tale of the master of a “banker” who saw the ghosts of three fishermen from his own father’s town in Devon sitting on a passing wave and warming themselves in the moonlight. We never won a naval battle in which seamen trained amid the perils of these pregnant w7aters did not play a glorious part. There were hundreds in Nelson’s fleet at Trafalgar, and not a few in Villeneuve’s. The people of Newfoundland, that “sea-girt Devon,” are a garrison planted there by the forethought of England’s genius to watch over and keep for us an industry that is necessary for the Empire’s salvation. To-day the Grand Banks (with the subsidiary shore-fisheries) are more than ever the world’s greatest school of seamanship, a thing not to be taught by German drill-books. If Newfoundland “will furnish, under suitable regulations” (I quote the words of Admiral Sir T. 0. Hopkins, who formerly commanded on the North American station) “a tithe of its magnificent seafaring population as a naval reserve, it will produce a force in quantity and quality unsurpassable anywhere.” Since there has never yet been a machine-made naval victory in all the annals of maritime warfare, it will be the height of folly if we fail to support Sir Robert Bond in his efforts to secure for the Em-
pire the control of the Grand Banks fishing industry, which takes men of iron and transmutes them into the steel of sea-power. That is the key to Sir Robert’s policy of retaliation against the United States, which must sooner or later drive the Gloucester fishing trust, an economic parasite, from Newfoundland’s territorial waters. The second half of that policy—tariff discrimination against American imports— will add at least two threads to the nexus of Imperial Preference which already encloses the whole of Greater Britain—a cocoon which is growing wings. The Newfoundland Premier is an advocate of Imperial Preference, though, when the writer met him in 1903 on a journey from St. John’s to Toronto, he did not see what the island could give to clinch a bargain. He knows better now. Of all Colonial statesmen, he is the most English and the least abstruse though the simple straightforwardness of the man is veiled by a curiously decorative courtesy which proved as “interesting” to the London shepherdesses in the gala year of 1902 as it was “fascinating” to the envoy-collecting hostesses of eclectic Washington. There must be much stuff in a politician who awakens feminine curiosity in both London and Washington, who is also as much a friend of the salted fisherfolk of Newfoundland outports as of Theodore Roosevelt. Somehow he suggests to me a transplanted variant of Viscount St. Aldwyn, and no doubt both men have the quality of pliant obduracy, the will that bends but cannot be broken.
As in the case of British North America, so in that of Australasia—the Premiers of a continental and of an insular colony, which have man}' interests in common, are here to deliver yet another assault on the blind towers of Cobdenism. But there are reasons why New Zealand, unlike Newfoundland, is not likely to merge its personality in that of its mightier neighbor. Newfoundland can never become economically self-supporting—the lands of its interior, the pasturage of the caribou, are unsuitable for agriculture—whereas New Zealand can produce all the necessities and necessary luxuries of modern civili-
zation within its own sea-frontiers. In such matters, again, the degree of proximity counts for much ; the sea voyage between New Zealand and Australia is fourteen times as long as that which separates Newfoundland and Canada. Nobody in Australia or New Zealand, so far as I know, now advocates the union of the two colonies. Indeed, Australian politicians would be more strongly opposed to such a step than those of “Maoriland,” seeing that it is still no easy matter to keep the States of the Commonwealth corralled within the constitutional ring fence, and the inclusion of “The Colony” (as Mr. Seddon customarily called his political principality) would greatly add to the confusion of local ideals. As yet the Australian Commonwealth—like the Canadian Confederacy in the seventies—is a political machine rather than a social organism, and Mr. Deakin is the only Australian statesman—not excepting Mr. G. H. Reid, in whose waistcoat pocket on the left side a Cobden Club gold medal still shines balefully—who has purged his mind of sectionalism. They say in Victoria that he is not as good a Victorian as he was in the ’eighties, and that is a very high compliment, though not meant to be so considered.. He has a personality which provokes the making of epigrams, all of which are of a friendly nature. Thus it was said of him as a leader-writer that even the (Melbourne) Age could not stale his infinite variety ; he has been described as the Balfour of colonial politics, and a rival speaker once asserted that he could “throw a halo of attraction around the orifice of Hades” —a remark which, by the way, illustrates the prevailing fault, a weakness for the “thunderous huff-snuff” of Australian minor oratory. Mr. Deakin has always been more anxious to do his work than to seize the spolia opima of political victories. He is a great authority on irrigation, and I happen to know that his “Irrigated India,” an established text-book on wet farming, has been an inspiration to President Roosevelt in the framing and carrying out of that “irrigation policy” which is turning the American southwest into a fer-
tile checkerboard with myriads of squares, each square a farmer’s homestead. He was a great factor in the Federation movement, which might have failed but for his mediation between the extremists. Indeed, he has always been the man with the political oil-oan, injecting here and there and everywhere the slow-falling words of soothing courtesy which prevent friction between incongruous personalities seeking the same end. But it is as the uncompromising advocate of Imperial Preference that he is best known in Great Britain. Here is his creed, a spoken passage which every tariff reformer should know by heart :
“It is usually urged that the British workman, or the colonial purchaser, will have to pay more. I do not admit that. Treaties can be made which would not raise the price of articles on either side, and which would still confer a mutual advantage. Others can be made which would, or might, incidentally or temporarily for the most part, raise prices. Again, it is a question of so much. There may be an increase in price which is inconsiderable, and a compensating advantage which is considerable. The only figures I propose to quote are those which indicate the possibility of diverting within the Empire trade which is at present without it. I find that in 1903 the exports—including gold and bullion—into the Empire represented upwards of £900,000,000. Adding the exports of the Empire for the same year, I find the total trade was £1,600,000,000. There must be a large proportion x>f these imports which the Empire cannot reduce profitably, and a large proportion of exports which we cannot consume. With these I will not deal. The enormous magnitude of those figures suffices to show the margin we have to work upon. They show the portion of our trade which now leaves only one of its profits within the Empire, and puts another profit in the pockets of our rivals and possible enemies. That trade may be retained within the Empire, to the lasting benefit of those portions of it which, like Australia, are but imperfectly cultivated
and inadequately settled.”
No such wide vision of the possibilities of Imperial Preference has yet been attained by Sir Wilfrid Laurier. But those who know that the development of the upper half of the North American prairie region is, and must remain, the mainspring of Canadian progress, and that markets must be found in the Pacific if that development is to proceed continuously, are thinking along somewhat different lines, from Mr. Deakin’s conclusion. When, in 1911 or thereabouts, the Dominion has three completed transcontinental routes—to say nothing of an emergency exit for western freight by way of the Hudson Bay —the wheat production of the great prairie provinces will be too great to be absorbed by the British market unless a tax be levied on the grain of Russia, the Argentine, and the United States. In view of the fact that the whole Far East is now the theatre of a war of industrial conquest waged by Japan cooperating with China, Canada cannot find adequate additional markets in that quarter, and will be prepared to pay almost any price in the form of tariff concessions for the preferential treatment of wheat, the product of the pivotal industry of the west. Mr. Deakin has foreseen this change, and so has the Premier of Manitoba, the most far-seeing of all the Imperialists of Western Canada.
New Zealand will never be incorporated in the Australian Commonwealth, but as regards nearly all the larger questions of Imperial policy the two countries are of the same mind. Both understand the meaning of British sea-power, without which they might at any moment—now the sun of an Oriental renaissance with its chrysanthemum rays is above the horizon—be swamped by armies of emigrants, numerous as the Mongol hordes of the Middle Ages, and able to conquer by an economic jiu-jitsu or power of under-living, from the overcrowded lands of southern and eastern Asia. Both are anxious to profit by the evil experience of the United States, and prevent the creation of gigantic soulless trusts within their borders. Both are well aware that Germany and other foreign powers are
cutting into our trade along every stage of the “long trail” (of which Rudyard Kipling sings) and diminishing the hoarded prestige to which the keepers of India—the Holy Land of the Far East— are clearly entitled. Both will vote the same at the conference through their chosen representatives, Mr. Deakin and Sir Joseph Ward. The New Zealand Prime Minister is not yet known to the people of the “Home-land,” though he has visited London on several occasions. We are still haunted by the magniloquent personality of the late Mr. Seddon —a statesman of mass and momentum comparable with the mighty scrummagers, one at least of them a relation of “King Dick," who sported the red rose in the heroic age of Rugby football. To Richard Seddon New Zealand was “God's own country” (the same name has been given to the Saskatchewan valley on the other side of the globe), and his ruling ideal was to recreate England in its image. In the contemplation of this monumental patriot one was apt to forget that he was also the subtlest politician of his day, the wariest of party meteorologists, a benevolent Count Fosco working the wires of innumerable profound projects. lie was the “lock forward of his pack of Cabinet Ministers, of whom his successor was one of the cleverest in getting the ball. Though he cannot be compared with his immortal chief, there is no doubt that Sir Joseph Ward is a strong and able statesman. It has been said that he resembles Mr. Seddon as a bull-terrier resembles a bull-dog, no more and no less. The collection of these stray epigrams is an interesting hobby. Whether this particular specimen is more than half a truth remains to be seen. For the time being Sir Joseph Ward must govern according to the spirit as well as the letter of Cabinet law, and one doubts whether he is able or willing to become a political autocrat. As to his all-round ability there can be no question whatever. He was the best of Postmasters-General, an official after Mr. Henniker Heaton’s own heart, and the story that when at Rome he read off a Marconigram and translated the
dots and dashes into good Italian is a good illustration of the man’s uncanny versatility. It will be long before a Postmaster-General in a British Cabinet —the place is given to party maids-ofall-work or to young men of a comingon disposition—will be able to work the wireless telegraph personally. In the matter of preferential trade Sir Joseph Ward is not (perhaps) so zealous as his predecessor. Last year he was talking over the possibility of a reciprocity treaty between New Zealand and the United States with President Roosevelt, that heroic busybody.
And so we come to the three representative of British South Africa, who will probably vote as a group in the conference. Two of the South African Premiers—Dr. Jameson and General Botha—need no introduction. The former has been working out the political testamentum militare of the late Cecil Rhodes in the mother-colony of the subcontinent, and so laying the foundations of the third great Federation in the Empire. We all know that he is an advocate of Imperial Preference, as ardent and outspoken as Mr. Deakin himself. General Botha has filled the news-sheets of late, and there is nothing new to be said of this honorable soldier and honest politician, who will probably be as cordially welcomed in London as was Marshall Soult when he visited us after the collapse of the Napoleonic tyranny. His opinions in regard to Imperial Preference are as yet unknown ; perhaps he himself does not know what they are. But he is defining his political personality day by day in admirable pronouncements, in which no trace of Prinsloo self-deceiving is to be discerned. Perhaps there is a trifle too much nobility in these utterances. One distrusts any variant of the ineffable John Glayde who appears on the political stage. Besides, Mr. , Hofmeyr was rather given to that particular pose. Lastly, there is Mr. Frederick Moor, the Premier of Natal, which, despite the suggestion of an untravelled Radical member of our own Parliament, is a very much more important thing than the poverty-stricken “workers’ dormi-
tory” of West Ham. Mr. Moor, who began by digging diamonds at Kimberley, was one of the party which carried responsible government for Natal. He has done a vast amount of adminis-
trative work and was acting Premier when Sir Albert Mime was attending the Coronation Conference. There is no stronger advocate of Imperial Preference.