Canada at the Imperial Conference
What Canada’s attitude will be on the various questions of Empire to be discussed by the Six Premiers in London
Harry W. Anderson
London, May 22 (Special Correspondence)—“ The Imperial Conference opened to-day.”
IN a dingy, comparatively small, manytimes-historic room in the Colonial Office on Downing Street, there met on May 22nd, a “Parliament” representing the entire British Empire. It is unique in world history; it is the latest development of monarchical democracy. Fourteen years ago it was first organized. Then it was experimental ; now its practicability and permanence are assured. Its proceedings directly affect all that portion of the map which is painted red.
Canada has particular interest in the approaching Colonial Conference—this
Parliament of Premiers of the Empire. Dean among the picturesque and noteworthy men who constitute its personnel is the Canadian Prime Minister. Sir Wilfrid Laurier is the veteran—the senior member. He alone remains of the Premiers who attended the initial conference in 1897. For Father Time treats premiers as pawns. Some he has removed al-
together from the checkered board of finite affairs; others he has relegated into obscurity to permit successors to take up the foremost moves in the unending game. Four years ago, on the occasion of the last meeting, the late Sir Henry CampbellBannerman welcomed General Botha, Premier of the Transvaal, as the “Benjamin of the Brotherhood;” to-day the erstwhile gallant leader of the Boers, now Premier of the South African Confederation, returns to the Parliament of Empire as one of the trio of “Elder Brothers.” The Brotherhood of British Premiers which meets this month will be composed of six members. Three of these have attended similar conferences before. Sir W ilfrid Laurier, as has been said, is the head of the family. He has represented Canada at each of the preceding three conferences which have been held since the inauguration of this Imperial fraternity. Sir Joseph W^ard, Premier of New Zea-
land, is second in seniority, having enjoyed the confidence of his islands at two of the series, while General Louis Botha, Premier of South Africa, returns now for his second participation in the organized affairs of Empire.
The three other Premiers will take their seats at the board for the first time. Right Hon. H. H. Asquith, Prime Minister of Britain, attended a former conference as Chancellor of the Exchequer and addressed the representative visitors. But on this occasion, for the first time, as head of the Home Government, it will be his portion to extend the official welcome of the Motherland. One of the most interesting figures, present for the first time, will be Hon. Andrew Fisher, the Premier of Australia. Mr. Fisher is the only Labor
representative who has thus far been delegated to a Colonial Conference. He succeeded Hon. Alfred Deakin, who was a man of distinctly conservative turn of mind, and his pronounced radicalism promises to find outlet in certain advanced proposals. Mr. Fisher, who is a native of Kilmarnock, Scotland, graduated from the school of manual labor. He was a molder by trade, emigrated to Australia when a young man, and has always been an adherent of the Labor interest in the antipodes. Sir Edward Morris, who replaced Sir Robert Bond in the premiership of Newfoundland, will be the third new figure at the conference. He, on the other hand, is of Irish birth, and was leader of an Independent party in his adopted island for a number of years.
The deliberations of these men will carry unusual weight. Each the chosen and accredited spokesman of his people, the comprehensive interests which, combined, they represent, and the varied principles for which they stand, give assurance that all matters under consideration will be viewed from every point of vantage. Scions of English, Scottish, Irish, French and Dutch blood, calling themselves Conservative, Liberal, Labor and Independent, representing so large a portion of the civilized world, they are meeting with the expressed object of “leading to uniformity, as far as is practicable, in national laws throughout His Majesty’s Dominions.” This parliament is not a mere assembling of individuals. It is, as Sir Wilfrid Laurier expressed it in 1907, “not a conference simply of prime ministers of the self-governing colonies and the home representative, but a conference between government and governments.” To Canadians, at least, the part the Dominion will play in such proceedings will have deep significance.
Canada’s contribution to the approaching Imperial Conference is not to be measured by the official declaration of the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Earl
Crew), when he said: “I have received no information as to the proposals of the Dominion oí Canada”; nor by the somewhat curt announcement of Sir Wilfrid Laurier that “Canada has no suggestions to offer.” The fact that the fourth “Parliament of Empire” will be, in a sense, preliminary to the Coronation ceremonies may rob it of some of the spectacular element. But the people of the premier Dominion are by no means lost to a sense of the significance of the conference, all the more so because of very recent developments in Canada’? fiscal affairs.
The government of Sir Wilfrid Lauiier has been attacked, both at home and in England, because of the absence of definite contributions by Canada to the agenda of the conference. In various quarters it has been suggested that the non-commital attitude of the Canadian premier is to be interpreted as another indication of the anti-imperial spirit which, by some, has been read into the reciprocity agreement with the LTnited States. Evidence of a desire on the part of Sir Wilfrid Laurier to participate more actively in the deliberations might have served to dissipate some of the misgivings inspired by that agreement and might have offset the effects of the annexation cry raised in the United States. But there is not the slightest reason to suppose that the ostensible aloofness of the Canadian premier has anything to do with the movement for better trade relations with the neighboring republic. As a matter of fact the intimation of the colonial secretary to the various governors and governors-general that he had received no information as to what Canada’s proposals would be was given out several weeks before the reciprocity arrangement had been concluded at Washington.
If one were to look for an explanation of the apparently passive attitude of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, it would more probably be found in the fact that the British people, in two recent successive verdicts, have
declared their unaltered adherence to the free trade position, and his oft-expressed conviction that the Mother Country must determine her fiscal policy for herself, freed from the embarrassment of meddling daughters. No one could read his great speech in the House of Commons a few weeks ago without feeling that Sir Wilfrid Laurier is as strongly Imperialistic as he ever was, if not, indeed, more so. In his glowing declaration that, rather than part with their national existence, Canadians would part with their lives, he struck a note which found an echo in every heart in the Dominion. One thing certain is that it will not be the fault of Sir Wilfrid Laurier if the conference passes without another full discussion of the question of the trade relations of the over-sea Dominions with the
Motherland. As the Premier clearly set forth in his speech a few weeks ago, Canada’s policy to-day is the policy laid down at the Imperial Conference of 1902, and it will be the policy presented for the third time at the approaching session. That policy, it may be well to repeat at this juncture, was in these terms:—“The Canadian Ministers
stated that, if they could be assured that the Imperial Government would accept the principle of preferential trade generally, and particularly grant to the food products of Canada in the United Kingdom exemption from duties now levied or hereafter imposed, they (the Canadian Ministers) would be prepared to go further into the subject, and endeavor to give
to the British manufacturer some increased advantage over his foreign competitors in the markets of Canada.”
If the Canadian Government has no resolutions to submit to the Imperial Conference about to be held, it will probably have something more substantial to offer. Though no official announcement has been made, there are indications that the
ratification of the reciprocity agreement with the United States by the Dominion Parliament, may be followed by a proposal to increase the British preference from thirty-three and one-third per cent, to at least forty per cent. That, in all likelihood, may be Canada’s message to the Imperial Conference of 1911. Moreover, it has been intimated that the Premier may
take up with the Imperial Government the question of the revision or abrogation, as far as Canada is concerned, of the favored nation treaties with ten of the foreign countries affected.
But whether the conference, as a whole, deals with the question of preferential trade or not, the representatives of Canada and Australia will assuredly discuss it while they are in London. It is more than ten years since Canada, developing the policy of trade preferences within the Empire, initiated in 1897, made approaches to the Government of Australia with the object of securing the co-operation of that colony. The Dominion Government offered preference for preference, but Australia’s response was not encouraging. In 1904, and again in 1906, the advances were repeated, and still without success. At the Imperial Conference of 1907 the question was discussed by Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Mr. Deakin. and, after the latter had decided to give a small preference to Britain, Sir Wilfrid Laurier renewed his offer, going as far as to specify the articles upon which Canada was prepared to grant and anxious to obtain a preference. The Deakin Government still dallied with the proposals, however, and was succeeded by the Fisher administration which contented itself with a sympathetic reference to a preferential trade arrangement with the Dominion.
In 1909, Mr. Deakin was back in office, and Sir Wilfrid Laurier cabled; “Can I hope Preferential Bill will be introduced this session ?” To this the Commonwealth Prime Minister replied: “Unfortunately not: but desire to submit more extensive offer reciprocity next session.” When the next session came, however, the Canadian Premier was assured that the political situation in Australia was not favorable to preferential discussions. Then the Hon. Andrew Fisher returned to power; the Canadian Government once more resumed negotiations, and the last word from Australia on the subject is that the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth will confer with Sir Wilfrid Laurier in London. What the result of the conference will be remains to be seen. It is known in Canada that there is a strong feeling in Australia in favor of reciprocity with the Dominion, but it is intimated that the attitude of the British Govern-
ment, combined with Mr. Fisher’s advanced radical views, may prejudice the chances of an arrangement which might be interpreted as a step in the direction of preferential trade within the Empire. In any case, there can be no mistaking the position of Canada.
Next to the question of trade—indeed, allied with it—the proposal which appeals most strongly to Canadians of those submitted for consideration at the Imperial Conference is that of the All Red Route. Apart from the imperial considerations which can be urged in favor of an All Red Line, Canada has very practical reasons for giving the scheme her heartiest support. The geographical position of the Dominion is such that it would form the central and most important link in the chain of transportation round the globe, and would become the highway, not only between Britain and her distant possessions, but also between Europe generally and the Orient. With his broad vision, Sir Wilfrid Laurier was among the first io recognize the commercial advantages of the proposal, and its importance as a factor in the welding of the Empire. It was he who fathered the resolution passed at the last Imperial Conference, and on his return to Canada he declared that he was “prepared to work with all my energy to further the cause.” It may. therefore, be taken for granted that the proposals of New Zealand and Newfoundland will find a warm supporter in the Premier of Canada, provided they are not too ambitious, nor too costly.
Four years ago Sir .Joseph Ward stated that New Zealand was prepared to pay $500.000 for the establishment of a service on the Pacific equal to that on the Atlantic, in order that Auckland might be brought within ten or twelve days’ distance of Vancouver. Though in fullest sympathy with the desire of New Zealand for the quickest possible means of communication with the Motherland. Sir Wilfrid Laurier was unable to share Sir Joseph Ward’s sanguine view that the over-sea Dominions would be justified in embarking immediately upon an experiment involving such large subsidies for only one section of the route. For a number of years Canada has been paying a subsidy of some $180,000 in aid of a Pacific steamship service between the
Dominion and New Zealand and Australia, and the prospect of having to increase that amount three or four fold, with the possible addition to the burden in respect of the Atlantic service, seemed to the Canadian Prime Minister to be beyond immediate ^consideration. At the same time Canada has already placed herself on record as being prepared to assume her fair share of the financial obligations necessary to the establishment of an All Red Route, and it is certain that the proposals of New Zealand and Newfoundland will receive the favorable consideration of her representatives.
The question of cheaper cable communication between the Mother Country and the over-sea Dominions has been engaging the sympathetic attention of the Post-
master General of Canada for some time, and, though he is not likely to be one of the Dominion’s representatives at the Conference, the fact that his views are shared by the Government and are in hearty accord with Canadian sentiment, generally, may be accepted as a guarantee that New Zealand’s proposal looking to the cheapening of cable rates will not lack Canada’s support. For its supply of news from Britain the Dominion has to rely largely upon the services furnished to the leading newspapers in the United States, with results that are not always congenial to the loyal spirit of Canadians. But, while decidedly of the opinion that the matter is one calling for some action, Sir Wilfrid Laurier is not likely to commit himself, without further consideration, to the establishment of a state-owned cable across the Atlantic, which is the solution offered by New Zealand and Australia. The Canadian Prime Minister is no champion of state ownership in any shape or form, and it will take a lot to convince him that the scheme is one upon which the component parts of the Empire would be warranted in embarking, at any rate at the present stage.
The idea of an Imperial Council of State, embodied in another of New Zealand’s proposals, is, frankly, not one that finds much favor among Canadians, outside of a very limited circle. The general sentiment was very well expressed by Sir Wilfrid Laurier at the last conference, when he said: “We do not view it with much favor, but we approach it with an open mind.” The average Canadian has yet to be convinced that an Imperial Council which would be fairly representative of all interests and prejudicial to none, is practicable. Canada is essentially loyal and British, but, more than any of the other over-sea Dominions, perhaps, she is passionately jealous of her liberties, and thoroughly determined not to relinquish the least particle of her autonomy. In
Parliament and out of it, whenever the subject of Imperial Federation or of an Imperial Conference is discussed, the fear which invariably obtrudes itself is that the will of the Dominion would inevitably be over-ridden by the bigger and more powerful partner, and that the freedom of action which the colonies at present enjoy, and which is cherished as the cardinal principle of self-government, would be impaired. In the present House of Commons there is apparently only one member who openly and unreservedly advocates Imperial Federation.
“Co-operation between the naval and military forces of the Empire and the status of Dominion navies’’ is a subject upon which Canadian opinion may be said to be sharply divided. In its naval policy, adopted last year, the Dominion Government recognized the principle of cooperation with the British Admiralty in the event of war, but insisted that in times of peace the Canadian navy should be controlled by the Canadian Parliament—an insistence upon autonomous rights that was, and is yet, keenly resented by a proportion of the people who take the view that, if a local navy was preferable to contributions in money or ships to the Imperial navy, it should be placed at the disposal of the British Admiralty at all times. However, having committed his Government to the principle of a local navy under local control, Sir Wilfrid Laurier is not the man to go back upon it, and it is fairly safe to assume that he will inform the Conference that Canada’s policy has been settled along definite lines, and is therefore not open to reconsideration. Being unalterably opposed to money contributions to Imperial defence, and a consistent advocate of closer trade development, it is certain the Canadian Premier would have strongly opposed the suggestion of Premier Botha in favor of substituting the one for the other, if it had not been withdrawn.
Emigration from Britain is naturally a matter in which Canadians are deeply interested, and their representatives at the Conference will watch closely the discussion of the proposals submitted by Australia. In this connection, too, the suggestion emanating from the British Government, touching the establishment of Labor Exchanges in relation to the Dominions, will receive the fullest consideration. Among Canadians who have given some study to the immigration problem the need for co-operation between the Home Government and the over-sea Dominions in the matter of regulation has long been felt, and any steps that the British authorities might see fit to take in the direction of conserving British emigrants for lands under the British flag would be cordially welcomed by Canada. But Sir
Wilfrid Laurier would not give his approval to any course which might suggest interference with the strictly defined immigration policy of the Dominion, or have the effect of restricting the flow of emigrants to Canada from the Motherland. At the last conference he declared that Canada, having undertaken to manage her owii immigration, had no grievances, and the results of his policy during the past few years have confirmed him in the impression that, in this matter, the Dominion has every reason to be satisfied. It is not likely, therefore, that the Canadian representatives at the Conference will have much to say on this branch of the work.
There is, however, one matter that the Canadian Prime Minister has intimated his intention of bringing to the notice of the Home Government at the Conference which may have a wider significance than it carries upon its face. The diplomatic status of the consuls-general located at the Canadian capital was called in question a few months ago over a petty question of social precedence, and the advisability of securing some diplomatic standing for
these near-ambassadors was discussed. If the matter is dealt with by the Conference it may be that the larger question of individual representation by the self-governing over-sea Dominions in foreign capitals will be taken under consideration. Canada’s primary interest in such deliberations would be the advisability of her direct representation at Washington. At the present time, however, there will be no disposition to urge this important recognition. Canadian Ministers who have recently visited the United States capital on international negotiations and arrangements have all rèturned with enthusiastic tributes to the services of Right Hon. James Bryce, the British Ambassador there, and Sir Wilfrid Laurier has, on several occasions, expressed Canada’s satisfaction with, and appreciation of, his services.
With so many outstanding matters of exceptional interest to the Dominion to be discussed and dealt with, Canadians will follow, earnestly and understanding^, the proceedings of the fourth Parliament of Empire in London.