The National Political Situation

Edward William Thomson January 1 1913

The National Political Situation

Edward William Thomson January 1 1913

The National Political Situation

Edward William Thomson

The outstanding feature of interest in the Canadian political situation this month is the question of naval defence. The policy of the Government has been set forth in the measure submitted to Parliament by Hon. Mr. Borden, while the attitude of the Opposition is embodied in the amendment which has been presented. In this issue Mr. Thomson, after investigating coast defence conditions at first hand, studying the provisions of the policies proposed, and interviewing the leaders of the dominant political parties, reviews the situation and gives his conclusions as to Canadian naval requirements.

IN the December number Mr. Editor explained why he and the proprietor, Colonel MacLean, who “has' always held anti-reciprocity, high protection views,” afford space each month to disquisition by the present writer, who favors “free trade and direct taxation” as the ideal policy for Canada and every other country. The Colonel regards his publications as national institutions, in which every side of every important political affair should be presented, if set forth with decent regard for , contrary opinion. Thus he evinces admirable confidence in the strength of his side, as well as complimentary and, I hope, deserved confidence in his contributor and guest. By occupying this relation the writer is spiritually bound no less to politeness than to candor in expression. lie is morally obligated to treat with respect and courtesy the tenets of his host and occasional opponent. Is it not much to be desired that other editors and proprietors of Canadian publications should similarly keep the forum open? How vastly more inter-

esting, educational and valuable than our existing partisan papers would be impartial journals, in which both side¿ of every large public question were regularly set out by sincere opposing writers the editor’s function being confined to securing available contrary talents, and to insisting on controversial propriety in his columns. As things now go some of us have to shun reading the papers of our own side lest disgust at their frantic unfairness impel us to undue favor for the other !> It is the present writer’s happy practice., to read every day those journals which oppose with most emphatic cocksure anger all such opinions as he most devotedly entertains. Thus one may be more confirmed in what he thinks the true faith than he can ever be by fellow disciples who howl intemperately in its support. Differences of opinion are much exaggerated in the strictly partisan press. Hence useful co-operation in common affairs is diminished. Said Baron Sergius in Disraeli’s “Lothair” to Endymion, the young hero of that novel, “All sensible men believe the same thing.”—“And what is that?” asked Endymion.—“Sensible men never tell,” replied the judicious Baron. Similarly one of the wisest of wealthy Canadians, one recognized as a sage by all who have long admired his walk and conversation, once said to his innermost circle, “I never say what I really think Canada ought to do, for fear I’d be put in a lunatic asylum.” The next best course is what he habitually supports.

Just now he emphatically approves the Navy programme of our Right Honorable Premier. Probably Colonel MacLean also approves it—I do not know his opinion in the business. His present contributor holds and avows that Mr. Borden in this case has, by sincerity of intention, thought, conclusion and statement proved himself a right honorable man. Grant his prime postulate, as is avowedly done by almost all Canadians except Mr. John S. Ewart and a few others, then everything proposed by Mr. Borden seems wise. Also ingenious. He has contrived to satisfy ultra-imperialists, whose firstdesire is for Canadian strengthening of Old Country force on the high seas. He has no less contrived to satisfy those Canadian Nationalists who, like myself, hold that defence of Canada’s coasts should first be provided. The singular merit of the Premier’s plan is that it meets both requisitions in -the speediest possible way. This would be bold dogmatism, if one did not proceed to argument, with hope of general assent.

Let us shortly consider the proposals. Mr. Borden designs to pay thirty-five millions of Canadian money, or of what is essentially the same thing—money borrowed at fair interest on Canada’s perfect credit-—for three battleships of the most formidable. He designs to place them in the service and complete control of the Admiralty, until such time as Canada may withdraw them. Is it not obvious that they could not be in complete London control, during the period of loan, if they were manned and officered by persons sup-

plied and paid by Ottawa? Some allege that the period of loan will not expire before the ships are worn out, superseded by vessels of later invention, or otherwise fit to be scrapped. If so, what harm? The period of loan must in any case extend until Canada shall have acquired the auxiliary craft necessary to great battleships. These addenda must include at least fast and strong cruisers for scouting, destroyers for employment against hostile torpedo craft, launches of lesser range for torpedo and mines service. Without such auxiliaries, which combined with a superior battleship constitute a fighting unit, the battleship itself would be not only much limited in action but much endangered, somewhat as a prizefighter would be if he were almost deaf, almost blind and capable only as to fists, arms, legs and trunk. Does Mr. Borden intend to obtain for Canada the auxiliary equipment without which Canada cannot recall the battleships?

His further or permanent Navy programme has not been disclosed at time of this writing. But his careful and lucid speech on his preliminary policy indicated that he designs establishment of shipyards, etc., on both Canadian coasts, which will be capable of constructing such vessels and appliances as may suffice for not only coast defence service, but as auxiliaries to super-dreadnoughts. How rapidly the intended Canadian shipyards, etc., may turn out such minor craft must depend on the sum voted by our Parliament, and the speed of its application to the purpose. Let the period be conceived as five, ten, twenty years—no matter how short or long it be, Canada will, at its termination, be enabled to manage battleships, and recall of her first trio may then reasonably occur. Meantime, not only will Canada’s security be enhanced by her strengthening of Britain’s power on the high seas, but the plant for Canada’s future coast defence may be rushed as fast as it could have been by adhering to Sir Wilfrid’s former programme, supposing Parliament as generous to that as to Mr, Borden’s plan, But that is not all the gain. The Premier clearly indicated that the Admiralty, upon completion of the three Canadian battleships (perhaps earlier) will be enabled to liberate and will detach for service along or off Canada’s coasts, such cruisers, gunboats and other minor craft as will sufficiently insure these coasts against their main or sole danger in a great British war, viz., the danger from raids by hostile cruisers. Our three big ships will supply England with more than the line-of-battle strength of numerous smaller craft formidable enough to serve Canada’s only need, and we shall get the use of these speedily—a fair exchange.

Yet the story is not all told. The London Government will employ the projected Canadian naval yards to build and repair armed vessels for Atlantic and Pacific service, thus aiding Canada to maintain effective staffs of artificers, whose presence here will facilitate the construction of such craft as we may undertake on account of a future Canadian Navy, or for the existing Fisheries Protection service. In short, everything needful to increase Canada’s security, to guard her coasts, and to promote her presumed ambition to acquire a serviceable navy of her own, is intended by the Premier’s businesslike, masterly plan. He came to this success by looking straight at the military problem, with resolution to meet its requisitions. To those who, like myself, are convinced .that Britain’s sea-supremacy is necessary to her life; thatboth are now gravely endangered; and that Canada’s separate political existence on this continent must depend on ample coast defence in case of Britain’s very possible defeat at sea. Mr. Borden’s plan may well appear the best possible. Thirty-five millions is a bagatelle compared with advantages to accrue. As much more, promptly, for Canadian shipyards and coast defence appliances would he another flea-bite in comparison with the benefits.

To him who deals sincerely much more than he apparently sought is

often added. How about the political aspects of the Premier’s scheme? Prima facie it must please Imperialists of every degree. Shall we who are primarily Nationalists, or decentralizationist Imperialists, be therefore wpful? Surely it must be well to rejoice that our centralizationist brethren are glad over what may much please ourselves. There does not appear to be the slightest infringement on Canada’s autonomy, or what I prefer to term independence. Were we absolutely independent, in the sense of separation from Great Britain and the Crown, even as Chile and Argentina are, it would be within our independent right to build battleships in England; to sell or loan them at any price or none to France, Greece, Germany or Great Britain; and to accompany the sale or loan with a proviso for recall of the vessels in certain contingencies, our own Government retaining right to decide as to when these had arrived. Sovereign governments have often sold warships to other sovereign governments. Such craft are commercial commodities between nations as between builders and governments, even as locomotives might be. The seller assumes no accountability for the use by buyer or borrower. Hence Canada is not one iota more involved politically by Mr. Borden’s plan than at present. The Dominion might, perhaps, be slightly more involved than now, if the three battleships were manned and officered by Canadians. By the way, there is a staring absurdity in protests that Canada is not adding men, but only ships, to Old Country sea-force. Those who lament this should either enlist or propose a scale of naval pay that will induce other Canadians to serve. Though the pay offered on the Laurier cruisers, “Niobe” and “Rainbow,” is better than Old Country naval pay, crews for these ships could not be enlisted in the Dominion. They recruited but 349 men and boys in Canada, up to the end of last March, and 111 of these deserted, besides 38 who enlisted elsewhere. In Vancouver harbor last July the training-ship “Egeria” of the local “Navy League” had but two volunteer boys aboard. It is ridiculous to suppose that either patriotism or imperialism will move men and boys of the working class to volunteer in peace time for naval service at lower pay than they can get ashore. Do men and boys of the mercantile, professional or gentleman class often volunteer on pure sentiment at a dead loss of money? As it has been necessary to raise R. N. W. M. Police pay, or do without good recruits, so it is necessary to raise Canadian naval pay, greatly, or do without Canadians in the service.

Back now to the political aspect of Mr. Borden’s scheme. Insofar as it purposes coast defence, even Messrs. Bourassa and Lavergne cannot consistently complain, since they have ever favored such defence. This is written in no derision of those most honorable, consistent, upright, brave gentlemen. They, as well as Messrs. Monk, Doherty and many others of Quebec, contended that Canada should abstain from goingafloat in armed ships on the high seas. Why? Because such procedure could not but involve Canada newly in liability to be engaged in the Old Country’s possibly world-wide wars, not as mere defender of Canadian territory, but as a country maintaining afar ships auxiliary to those of Great Britain. They held ^that a voice in directing Great Britain’s foreign policy should accrue to Canada if she put armed ships on the high seas. This contention surely implied that Canada, if her voice were over-ruled in council, might and should revert to her old obligation to do no more than defend herself in any OldCountry-made war. That was the traditional position of both our political parties, till the Boer war caused both to desert it. Now Mr. Borden does not propose to put Canada immediately afloat on the high seas.

We do not go there by paying for ships and loaning them to England, any more than if we built them and sold or loaned them to France or the United States. We shall, so far as those vessels are concerned, remain precisely where

we have ever been in a political sense, i.e., liable to be engaged willy-nilly in our own defence, after strengthening Great Britain’s. Again, Mr. Borden has not, at time of this writing, even proposed that Canada shall go afloat armed off her own shores. He has stated that the London Government will detach ships for the high-seas guard of our coasts, as of old. If his projected Canadian shipyards build war vessels for Great Britain, as proposed, Canada still will not be, any more than Vickers or Cramp, shipbuilders, going afloat on the ocean. Not till Canadian craft, controlled by Ottawa, and flying a distinctive Canadian flag, shall take to the high seas, can this Dominion be newly placed politicalally, toward Great Britain or foreign powers. Wherefore the Borden policy, except inasmuch as it proposes large expenditure, ought to be approved by the “Nationaliste” chiefs. This is so clear that we may expect to hear the programme denounced by ingenious “Grits” as one contrived by Messrs. Bourassa and Lavergne! It does not appear that a Canadian Minister on the so-called Imperial Defence Committee can newly involve us in a political sense.

There is only one point of view from which the Premier’s sincere yet subtle plan can be consistently and powerfully attacked. That vantage ground is held by Mr. John S. Ewart, K.C., who has long contended that Canada should take or receive the status of an independent kingdom of the British Crown. His latest pamphlet (No. 11, “Kingdom Papers”) is amazingly thorough and ably argued. It was written before Mr. Borden’s scheme had been published. After acquaintance with its details, Mr. Ewart, now in England, may perhaps see reason to modify some arguments in his contention that Mr. Borden is bound by the spirit of the Canadian constitution to pass a Redistribution Act, and then call a general election on his naval policy. However desirable such procedure may be in view of so important a matter, there is less reason for doing so than Mr. Ewart supposed when he wrote, i.e., if it be true, as herein suggested, that the Premier presently proposes no change of Canada’s status toward foreign countries or Great Britain.

But nothing, except sentiments contrary to Mr. Ewart’s, can make light of his argument that it is not only unreasonable for Canada to remain liable to be involved* m Old Country wars, but that Canada might be far more useful to England as a neutral than as a combatant. And no degree of contrary sentiment can annul the force of his exposition as to the prodigious accumulated wealth of the Old Country British, and the consequent monstrosity of their inviting and receiving from Canada the price of three super-dreadnoughts. Consider Mr. Ewart’s own sentences:—

“Turning now to the capability of the wealthy and ' well-to-do classes in the United Kingdom to pay for their own navy, let it be noticed that the national wealth is simply colossal. The United Kingdom is the great creditor nation of the world. Almost every corner of the globe pays tribute to her. Part of the income of almost every civilized man (and of u good many of the uncivilized) goes to pay the great banker her interest. Her foreign investments amount to about £3,750,000,000, and on this she draws every year the enormous revenue of £180,000,000. What does she do with it? Well, as she has nothing else to do with it, she re-invests it. Her new foreign investments last year were about £175,000,000. In fifteen years these investments have increased as follows:

Investments in 1911 ...... £3,750,000,000

Investments in 1896 ...... 2,092,000,000

An increase of ........... £1,658,000,000

Or an annual average increase of ............. £110,000,000

The annual enhancement naturally increases in amount as the unexpended surpluses are re-invested. Last year, for example, exceeded the average of its fourteen predecessors as follows:

Increase in 1911..... £175.000,000

Average increase in previous

fourteen years.......... £110,000,000

An enhancement of......... £65,000,000

Foreign assets are but one-quarter of the total wealth of the United Kingdom. The magnificent aggregate is £16,000.000,000. It was estimated, in 1885, by Sir Robert

Gift'en, at £9,600,000,000; increase in twentysix years, £6,400,000,000, or an annual increase of over £246,000,000.

Analysis of income confirms these figures. The annual revenue of the wealthy islanders is not less than £2,000,000,000. The portion on which income tax is paid can be stated with precision. For the year ending 5th April, 1910, it was £1,011,100,345. In 1896 it was £677,769,850; annual increase £23,809,320; increase in fourteen years £333,330,495. As the total income is about twice the income taxed, we maÿ double this annual increase of revenue. The respective amounts, therefore, are as follows: Aggregate wealth £16,000,000,-

000; annual income £2,000,000,000; annual increase in wealth £246,000,000; annual increase in income £47,000,000. Figures like these are far from arousing my sympathy. They do not, by themselves,' prove poverty or distress.”

Mr. Ewart proceeds to show that the public debt of Great Britain has decreased by £69,000,000 since 1854, and by £56,000,000 during the last five years. The expenditure on army and navy is paid out of the ordinary revenue, and there was a surplus of £0,545,000 last year. Compared with his wealth “the weary Titan” is paying less to-day for armaments than ten years ago. “If the United Kingdom provided four new battleships, at cost of ten million pounds, her total war expenditure would be about one twenty-fifth part of the national income. If the ten million pounds were paid out of income there would still be left an increase in income, over the previous year, of £37,000,000. And what would be the proportion between the ten millions and the total foreign investments of £3,750,000.000. Not one three-hundred-andseventv-fif th-part. The poor weary

Titan ! How can he be expected to meet an emergency without somebody’s help?”

Mr. Ewart gives many more undeniable statistics, observing that the Titan might be less weary if the orb under which he is fancifully said to stagger were not one of gold. In previous numbers of this series of contributions it has been similarly, though far less elaborately argued that the Old Country British wealthy ought to pay for their own safety, and the wealthier of Canada pay, per income tax, for any defensive armament needed here. As yet Premier Borden has not intimated an intention to produce the $35,000,000 from the more bulgy private pockets of our beloved fellow-countrymen.

But all that line of contention cannot count with a people of grand sentiments. It is not to relieve either the Old Country wealthy nor the Old Country poor that good Canadians mean to give thirty-five millions to Admiralty use. It is not merely to do themselves proud. It is not even to gratify their sense of humor, though nothing could be more delightful to a humorist of moderate wealth than to drop a bit of money into the extended hat of a billionaire. Wouldn’t we all rush to contribute if Baron Rothschild, John Rockefeller, or Andrew Carnegie were personally soliciting alms? There is a good, practical reason for approving Premier Borden’s ostensible scheme. It may be, it probably is, but part of his entire real project. Behind the preliminary of December 5th, considerate eyes may perceive a swiftly developed

Canadian Coast Defence and Navy. Whatever may be incidentally done, meantime, to aid Great Britain will be kindly done,, valuable to our high seas defence, useful to Canadian self-respect, and elevating esteem for Canada in British and American kin. Said Edmund Burke—“Never was there a jar or discord between genuine sentiment and sound policy. Never, no, never did nature say one thing and wisdom say another.”

The writer’s intention, on beginning, was to discourse on a few other subjects of recent parliamentary debate. But his space has run out. No matter. The affairs are familiar by partisan discussion. The world is unlikely to get off its axis for lack of some impartial germane reflections here. If it should be reported wobbly for want of the same this month we can do our best to steady it about February first ! That is one of the consolatory thoughts of a writer who does not say good bye, but merely au revoir. He retires meditating return, and hoping for as interesting a subject, and as kind an audience next time.