The National Political Situation

Edward William Thomson December 1 1912

The National Political Situation

Edward William Thomson December 1 1912

The National Political Situation

Edward William Thomson

These monthly reviews of the political situation are attracting attention of business and professional men right across Canada and are being read abroad. We are receiving many letters concerning them. While the majority commend our enterprise, some express surprise, knowing as they do the anti-reciprocity, high protection views always held by Colonel MacLean, the owner of the Magazine. They cannot see why he should give space to the presentation of other opinions. Colonel MacLean regards his various publications as national institutions, not private corporations, and has therefore given place to the views of men and women whose position or ability entitled them to respect and consideration no matter how widely he differed from or how strongly his newspapers were combatting these views. In the following pages some vital topics are dealt with. This is the most important contribution we have yet received from Mr. Thomson.

THE mechanical exigencies of magazine publication compel printing of contents long before issue. Hence “MacLean’s” readers, before perusing this, will have seen Parliament assembled at Ottawa, read the Speech from the Throne, received some knowledge of Premier Borden’s “Navy” policy, learned something of his designs concerning Tariff, Railways, Bank Act Revision, etc., and found Sir Wilfrid Laurier and his followers fearing that Ministers are incompetent. Such advantage over conditions in which I must write will enable strict party men—those plastic mortals who pattern their minds on their leaders’—to judge with rebuke or commendation, the hereby expressed opinion that Mr.

Borden is too prudent to propose anything wondrously novel. Last month we considered here the propriety of letting well enough alone in a business situation that pretty much everybody in Canada would like to conserve. From enquiry in Ottawa, I judge that the Premier and his Finance Minister, who are the principal Ministers, just as those of their predecessors were in Sir Wilfrid’s long Government, are too wise to intend startling changes. This seems to be the 'opinion or forecast of the Opposition, since their organs have lately given much, space to declarations that even the new “navy” policy will resemble the old one so closely that credit for both should accrue to Sir Wilfrid ! Also, they attribute the continuing

prosperity to retention of the Fielding ' tariff. They intimate that almost everything in every department has been going on, and will proceed pretty much as before the change of administration. This ought to delight them as evidence that Liberals in office were so wise that their doings and policies can’t be changed notably by Tories ! Yet opposition certificates to this effect are usually written in a taunting strain ! Meantime, Independents are, fortunately, free to credit the Cabinet with praiseworthy prudence. Did not Opposition critics understand that the factors of Canada’s policy are the various permanent Institutions and Interests of the country, which change very slowly in their mutual interdependence, and which necessarily so influence or control Ministries that it does not matter much what party is in office at Ottawa. This impression is now very perceptible in the public mind. Canadians in general wish to be let alone, to be spared political excitements, that they may the more closely attend to their private concerns. Mr. Borden appears aware of this politicallyapathetic condition of the electors, and unlikely to jeopardize his Ministry by acting as Disturber of the Peace.


There has been, for instance, during months before the Session’s opening, reason to believe that the Finance Minister does not mean to revive that project for a permanent Tariff Commission which he broached last session, when new to office. Sir Wilfrid Laurier and his chief supporters then protested against the design. They told Mr. White that he could serve every good purpose he had in view by organizing and maintaining in his Department a staff of permanent enquiry into the workings of the tariff and the interaction of its schedules. They alleged that a separate and largely independent Commission could not but be or appear powerful over the Tariff, wherefore ministerial responsibility for changes would be, or at least appear to be, impaired. Many other equally sound ob-

jections were urged. These appear to have so impressed Mr. White that he has modified the project. Surely this indicates wisdom in him. A mind open to instruction by information, experience. reflection is the right mind for administration. Only Fools and Bourbons forget nothing and learn nothing. Under which of these categories shall be ranged speakers and writers who may be found taunting or reproaching Mr. White for amiably accepting counsel from that undeniably wise man, Sir Wilfrid? Politeness forbids the querist to reply. In this matter we Canadians can congratulate ourselves that the Government inclines to leave well enough alone. This seems to ensure continuance of the Fielding tariff, with such slight modifications as its judicious concoctor was himself in the habit of making from time to time, to suit changes in circumstance.


If Mr. Borden proposes to contribute thirty millions, or some other handsome donation, to the London Government, for naval use, will that be a tremendous departure from a let well enough alone policy ? Surely the answer must depend on what information he shall supply concerning reasons for the gift. Some weeks ago it appeared that there might be absurdity in alleging Great Britain to face such an “emergency” as could make a great money vote in her aid incumbent on Canadians. There was then no new emergency; the old one was but getting more and more understood. Individual definitions of “emergency” then moulded individual Canadian opinions. Some could not interpret the word to signify aught that did not bounce up suddenly, as a whale emerges, with prodigious splash. There wasn’t any such jump from Germany, for instance. There was merely the steady, long-noted, scientific, implacable yearly ascent into dangerous importance of not only the Emperor William’s sea power, but that of a number of other Potentates and Republics. In view thereof Canadian apathy somewhat re-

sembled that of a young pioneer in old Indian-haunted times, who continued calmly plowing in conviction that when Indians came they’d surely race out of the surrounding woods whooping. He could not believe his own eyes when they told him that yonder top-knots and paint-streaked countenances and stealthy half-hidden objects crawling toward him and his father from all skirts of the clearing were really Indians bent on taking white scalps. He didn’t realize the emergency, and run to hand his father a good gun, because the coming enemy didn’t run in yelling! It seems but as yesterday that the Turks were similarly unaware of any new emergency. Their situation seemed to their inattentive gaze about the same as at any time the past century or three centuries. Up sprang a recognizable emergency. Within five weeks their beaten braves were huddled in desperate Constantinople. Now it is perfectly conceivable, in view of dirigibles, aeroplanes, and submarines, that the remnants of Great Britain’s forces might be as speedily huddled in a desperate London. Prudence is no lazy fatalistic Turk. It takes warning to heart. It gets ready to repel the possible worst. That is why many an emergency may not emerge, or may harmlessly vanish.


Giving Great Britain a handsome lump sum for naval purposes may be made obnoxious to many Canadians, if it be proposed and defended on obnoxious grounds. What sense in trying to tie any sort of string to the money? That might be to drag Canada after her cash. Did Mr. Borden stipulate that the gift should imply Canada’s retaining any kind of control of its expenditure by London, then our political freedom might be impaired. An amply sufficient defence of the contemplated cash vote resides in our long obligation to Great Britain’s sea-power, our obvious interest in its full continuance or increase, our natural affection for

kinsmen in the gap, those on whom the greatest brunt of war from continental European enviers or enemies must necessarily fall. The Old Home is the Citadel of all who speak English, French, or any other tongue in this Dominion. If Love and Gratitude were not enough reason .for voting thirty millions to keep up England’s floating battlements, even as those sentiments warranted Laurier in granting the trade preference, then self-interest would be sufficient. While the Old Country’s sea-power remains what it has been since Napoleon’s time, we Canadians shan’t have to either provide us with very costly armaments against possible invasion from Europe or Japan, or else beg to be included in the friendly neighboring Republic. But to implicate Canada newly in Great Britain’s wars, to obligate ourselves newly, by any sort of novel political bond, to subordinate our country newly, on pretence that it may be possible to obtain a voice in London counsels by a gift to England’s navy—that would be abhorrent to many Canadians, no matter how pleasing to some. Here again the let well enough alone policy seems wisest. The almost perfectly voluntary nature of our cherished connection with the Old. Country can be perfectly retained by voting the money freely, asking nothing in return, leaving London wholly unhampered by any sort of Canadian claim to “a voice.” Thus the generous sense of Family Union in members of the Voluntary Empire would be signalized, and mankind taught newlv that the bonds of language. affection, common history, law and ideals are powerful to open community purses, and—truly the only bonds that ever did or ever can bind far separated Nations to common actions.


Respecting armaments Canada’s proper obligations are of two quite distinct sorts—the obligation of self-defence, and that of aiding Great Bri-

lain and other Homes of “the breed,” in whose independence and power we cannot but be concerned materially as well as sentimentally. If Mr. Borden enable us to fulfill the latter obligation by some millions given to the Admiralty in such wise that we shall be under no sort of expressed or implied engagement to vote more, save at our own sole will, then the ground will have been well cleared for considering selfprotection. In that problem no reasonable person includes consideration of defence against the United States. No need to go into the. reasons. Enough that no Dominion Government has ever acted as if need for such defence did or could exist. A few years ago equally small need appeared for providing coast defence against possible invasion from Europe or Asia, particularly Japan. In those times England’s fleet roved and virtually dominated all seas. Also, no other naval Power was formidable enough to seem dangerous. Moreover, defences for shores could then be speedily improvised. Again, standard weapons were not then highly specialized, they could be quickly obtained by our young men if needed, those possessed by formal armies were not such as to warrant any invader in imagining he could march far into any country fairlv defended hv rifles in the hands of hardy volunteers. All this has been changed. Even as armed revolution by rifles and barricades has been made impracticable by the superiority of trained soldiers and their terrific highly specialized weapons, so defence by rifles has gone past. Hence our coast cities and coal mines, which might serve an invader as bases, require modern armaments capable of standing off raids from the sea. which operations might develop into hostile occupation, or the exaction of large indemnities. There is good reason to believe that Mr. Borden contemplates establishment of the needed forces, ship-yards, docks, forts, great guns, submarines, torpedo and floating mines stations on our Atlantic and Pacific shores. Respecting these he seems likely to make some perman-

ent agreement with Great Britain, one by which her ships might have the use or advantage, but not the control of our defence provisions.

Unless I am misinformed, the Premier, while in England, tentatively arranged for all this with the London Government, and devised ingeniously for the up-keep of meditated Canadian works. What if his intended plant for construction, etc., were to be utilized not for Canadian vessels and repairs only, but also for building, shelter, and repair of Old Country armed ships to be employed in adjacent oceans? The desire for “a Canadian Navy built in Canadian yards of Canadian materials” might be importantly subserved by “custom work” from the Old Country fleets. We could turn out our own craft the cheaper for being enabled to maintain many artificers engaged frequently on Great Britain’s behalf. In connection with this good plan, and with the whole matter of co-operation for both coast-defence and the Family sea-supremacy, a political arrangement not involving Canada in any new• subordination is believed to be in contemplation. What if a representative of Canada, possibly a Minister of the Ottawa Cabinet, were delegated to continuous membership in the . Imperial Council of Defence? He might reside mostly in London, and be charged to keep Ottawa confidentially informed of everything considered or intended in that Council. It is not representative in the elective sense. It includes all the principal statesmen, soldiers and sailors of the Old Country, assembled on occasion that they may consider all manner of foreign affairs submitted by the London Government, and advise respecting armaments in view of changing circumstances. By a permanent member in that great council, Canada might be well served, yet committed to participation in nothing of which her Government, Parliament and people would not approve. This project is but little out of line with former plans of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. It should have few terrors for those who detest schemes

for centralizing the Empire Yet it ought to please those who conceive cooperation to be advance on the way to Imperial Federation.

Mr. Monk’s resignation does not yet appear to have been caused by dislike of the Premier’s design to keep a Canadian on the Council of Defence. That most honorable man went out because he had entered the Cabinet in erroneous belief or hope that Mr. Borden would submit his Sea-and-Coast-Defence programme to the electors, per referendum or plebiscite, before its final approval by parliament. He has not asserted that the Premier pledged himself to that course. Possibly he retired because he detested the labors of the Public Works Department. He himself said privately, not three months after taking the portfolio, that

it burdened him, kept him from books, study, meditation, everything pleasant to his nature. Mr. Monk is no common swashbuckler of politics, such as can be elevated and dignified by office, but a scholar, thinker, lover of literature, always inclined to privacy, one who was in public life from self-sacrificing desire to serve his country. Probably much more importance has been attributed by others to his resignation than by himself. Analogously, unwarranted significance has been attached, by contrary partizans, to the bve-elections in Macdonald and in Richelieu. In each “the Dutch took Holland.” In both the ministerial candidates polled more votes than at the general elections last year. But the defeat of an Independent who was personally disapproved by Macdonald Liberals disclosed little or nothing concerning Manitoban opinion on reciprocity. And the reduction of Richelieu’s Liberal majority evinced but the usual apathy of Canadian voters in bye-elections.


What must embarrass the friends of reciprocity is the prodigious triumph of Mr. Wilson and the Democrats in the Presidential election. This cannot mean

less than that the winners, who have never before since the Civil War possessed at once the House, the Senate and the Presidency, can now establish that “tariff for revenue only” from advocating which they have never flinched. They cannot be supposed unlikely to abolish or greatly reduce customs taxes on U. S. importations of grains, woods, ores, fish, and all raw materials. If they do so our West must obtain what its people appear mostly to desire. This would make ashes of the reciprocity “pact.” It cannot be judicious for the Opposition to tie themselves anew to a scheme of reciprocity which seems likely to become superfluous. Will not Washington repeal the Reciprocity Act as obstructive to new legislation? Will not Canada’s reasonable course be to await the reformed U. S. tariff before materially changing our own? Ample occasion for party difference here will then surely arise from considering whether we ought to reciprocate any U. S. reduction of taxes on our raw exports, or reply by export taxes in endeavor to retain our natural products for domestic manufacture.

To gain time for consideration of the coming U. S. trade policy both of our political parties may be suited by the Government’s probable intention to refrain from a Redistribution of Representation Act this session. The B.N.A. Act., Canada’s constitution, specifies “On the completion of the Census” in the year 1871, “and of each subsequent decennial Census,” the representation of the Provinces “shall be readjusted,” etc. But when is a Census completed? That of 1011 has long been advanced far enough to enable Parliament to effect Redistribution. But Sir Wilfrid Laurier did not redistribute on the census of 1001 before a lapse of two years. True, he had not to deal with a census that changed the proportionate representation of provinces as greatly as does that of 1011. Nor was there in 1003 a great region at once opposed to the Ministry and entitled to large additional representation. It appeared in Oc-

tober that the Opposition would vehemently contend that Canada’s circumstances require a Redistribution Act this session, passage of which would furnish Alberta and Saskatchewan with fresh reason for proclaiming themselves aggrieved, inasmuch as such Act would emphatically show them lacking their due M. P.’s. Now, November’s triumph of the U. S. Democrats seems likely to have furnished Sir Wilfrid with reason for quietly consenting to postponement of Redistribution. Saskatchewanners and Albertans cannot but perceive that were such Act passed now, it would be injudicious for them to allege grievance by delay of a general election that neither of our political parties can much wish to bring on before Congress shall have remodelled the U. S. tariff.


There is reason to believe that the Borden Government mean to proceed in some important matters—such as the promotion of smooth highways, and of agriculture—on the old “John A. Macdonald conservative” principle that the federal power is in every sense entitled to further, independently of the provincial powers, any good work which the B. N. A. Act empowers Ottawa to perform. Some absurd results came of the payment of last session’s federal agricultural grants to provincial authorities hostile to the Ottawa Ministry. I

have it from undeniable authority that in one anti-Borden province the agricultural grant was not only reserved by the local ministry for anti-Borden constituencies only, but the electors were told that even the Borden Government could not trust its provincial friends to spend the money honestly, wherefore it was handed over to Liberals for distribution ! That was “campaigning down to the ground!” But any set of the lower sort of politicians will say or do almost anything at election times in the way of unpunishable ingenious rascality. It would seem reasonable to hold that the federal authority cannot be wrong in resolving to do independently whatever it is entitled constitutionally to do. Many good Canadians never ' were or could be devotees of that extreme “provincial rights” doctrine which the Liberal Opposition appeared to favor last session, which the Conservatives worshipped when opposing the “new provinces” Acts in 1905, and for which each party professes reverence when out of power at Ottawa. The “federal rights” principle is dear to Canadians who dislike parochialism. Under it Premier Borden seems likely to do some very useful interesting things, which can be discussed later in “Maclean’s.” This contribution has already run beyond the writer’s stipulated space.