Does Canada Want Real Voice in Empire Policy?

M. GRATTAN O'LEARY October 1 1923

Does Canada Want Real Voice in Empire Policy?

M. GRATTAN O'LEARY October 1 1923

Does Canada Want Real Voice in Empire Policy?


XlR titan y decades we hare had autonomy; for several years we have claimed a mi(ion’$ status; will forthcoming npenal Conference prove that we hare the shadow and not esubstance? Will King agree with Bruce, Smuts, Massey

TWENTY-FlVE years ago an Imperial Conference was mainly a social gathering. Mr. Lytton

Strachey’s Victoria reigned as Queen; Lord Strathcona was famous for the munificence of his dinners; pictures of the delegates invariably showed the Colonial Secretary sitting while all the Colonial Premiers stood; and while between banquets and balls and week-ends the Conference held friendly talks about posts and telegraphs and tariffs, the Empire little knew nor long remembered what the gathering was about.

The war brought a distinct change.

And the significance of the change was that it registered the entry of the Dominions into the field of foreign affairs. Prior to 1914 Canada and Australia had thrown off the swaddling clothes of colonialism.

To all intents and purposes their local autonomy, their control of their domestic life was in their own hands, was indeed as Mr. Asquith said at the Imperial Conference of 1911, “absolute, unfettered, complete.”

But over external affairs, over foreign policy, except when it was concerned purely with matters of trade, they had r.o control at all. It was not until that same Conference in 1911 that Dominion statesmen were even informed of the secret cardinal facts upon which British diplomacy turned; and almost in the same breath that the British Prime Minister avowed the absolute local autonomy of the Dominions, he declared that they could not share with the Mother Country in the indivisible responsibility for the management of foreign affairs and foreign responsibilities.

Now this was a position which, in any event, could not have lasted much longer. What did it mean? It meant that Canadians might at any time be involved in war as the result of a course of policy which they had no hand at all in shaping. Nor could they—as some seemed to think —remain neutral. The moment the King declared -war, as the result of the policy and upon the advice of his ministers in Britain, every subject of the King was at war, exposed to enemy attack, shackled by the diplomatic and economic restrictions of belligerent status. It was a position intolerable to our national self-respect.

Long before the war was over, an effort was made to have this anomaly removed. At Christmas, 1916, on the initiative of Lord Milner, then Colonial Secretary in the Lloyd George government, the Prime Ministers of the Dominions were invited to join with the British War Cabinet in conducting the policies of the war. In the Imperial War Cabinet which first met in 1917, and in the British Empire Delegation to the Paris Conference, the Dominion Premiers sat as equals beside their British colleagues and shared equally with them in settling the decisive issues of the war and of the peace. It remained only for this status to be given formal endorsement.

Sanction was not long delayed. At the Imperial War Conference of 1917, on Sir Robert Borden’s motion, a resolution was carried declaring that the post-war organization of Inter-Imperial relations must assign to the Dominions “an adequate voice in foreign policy” and to this end should “provide effective arrangements for continuous consultation, as the several Governments may determine.” Finally, to make it manifest that such concert in action should be a concert of equals, it was agreed,

again on Sir Robert Borden’s initiative, that separate plenipotentiaries should sign the Treaty of Versailles and the subsequent treaties on behalf of each of the Domin-

1 have stressed this change, or development, for two reasons: (1) because it is essential to realize how this Conference ought to differ from the gatherings of pre-war years; and (2) because it is clear that this question of voice in foreign policy, with all of its ramifications and

i m p 1 i c at i o n s, and with its allied topic of defence, will dominate the Conference.

The reason is very plain. . Briefly summarized, it is this: that although the theory of a Canadian voice in foreign policy is accepted, and notwithstanding that during the war this voice was exercised, in actuality it does not now exist. There is no voice. It is not because the British Government has opposed it. Neither is it because the Canadian people have not desired it. It is simply that through lethargy or incompetence, or party politics, the Government of Canada has made no effort to provide it.

A few years ago we had a Department of External Affairs. It was a far cry from the best word in a Foreign Office; but it was something. It was manned by an official like Loring C. Christie, a brilliant young Canadian of wide diplomatic experience; it kept in touch with the British Foreign Office; and it kept at least the Prime Minister informed of what was going on in the world. To-day that office is dismantled. Mr. Christie, ignored and humiliated for the crime of having been appointed by Sir Robert Borden, was practically driven to resign ; and the department which is supposed to keep the cabinet in touch with Empire foreign policy with its changing aspects, is virtually in charge of a few clerks and stenographers.

And what is the resulting reality? It is that in all the decisions in foreign policy which the British Government has taken during the past two years—decisions any one of which, conceivably, might have involved this country in war—the Government of Canada had neither knowledge nor voice.

Take, as an illustration, the late Near East Crisis.

Was the Canadian Government consulted when Mr. Lloyd George advised the Greeks to keep on fighting the Turks, with the consequence of Chanak? And, after Chanak had become a shambles, and Mr.

Lloyd George was extricating himself from a tight corner, was Canada consulted about the now famous message that stirred all Europe and brought a British Ministry down? One cannot blame Lloyd George.

One cannot blame him for not seeking the advice of Canadian Ministers when, under existing conditions, that advice would be utterly useless. No one in Ottawa knew even the alphabet of the Near Eastern situation. There was no machinery in Ottawa to keep Canadian ministers informed; and there was no Canadian in London to keep in touch with the Foreign Office. Consequently, had Mr. Lloyd George all the good-will in the world, what sense would there be in his asking the advice of men, none of whom could have known anything useful about the Near East, and some of whom must have thought the Dardanelles were mountains? Yet had war come in the East—and we know how narrowly it was averted— Canada would almost certainly have been involved.

Ignoring the Dominions

TAKE, again, Lausanne and the Rhur. At Lausanne the Treaty of Sevres, to which Canada was a signatory, was torn into shreds. At Lausanne the thing for which tens of thousands of Australian troops died passed into the discard of oblivion. Was either Canada or Australia asked for advice or sanction?

Canada, like Australia, has an interest in German reparations. We are interested to the extent of a share of the British Empire allotment—about twenty-two per cent, of the total. Yet does the Canadian who boasts of our voice in foreign policy imagine that we were consulted throughout all the changes in the British position in regard to reparations? Does he think that Mr. Baldwin considered the much-vaunted boast about the Empire’s diplomatic unity when he stood in Westminster a few weeks ago and read his lecture to France? If he does, then he is profoundly mistaken.

The plain truth is—and it is vitally important that we think clearly on this subject—that, in actual practice, which is the only thing that counts, Canada to-day has no real voice in. the Empire’s foreign policy. She has theshadow, but she hasn’t the substance.

When the Prime Ministers meet in London this week, Lord Curzon, the British Foreign Minister, will address them. He will not appear before them, however, to seek wisdom or advice. He will be there to tell them what has been done by the Foreign Office within the past two years. He will not say to the overseas statesmen:

“We should like to know what you would have us do in regard to this?” He will say, in effect:

“This is what we have done; what do you propose doing about it?”

What of Mr. King?

MR. BRUCE, of Australia, and Premier Smuts, of South Africa, are going to protest. They are going, to ask that the voice of thé Dominions in foreign

policy be made a reality, instead of the present doctrinal theory that has real no application to fact.

What, then, will be the position of Premier King?

Canadians who do not wish to revert to the old pre-war, near-Colonial attitude will do well to watch his conduct. For Mr. King, both in his treatment of the External Affairs Department, as well as by his public utterances, has made it pretty clear that he is not concerned with a voice in foreign policy. What other construction can be placed upon his recent statement to a Quebec paper (given in an interview in connection with the Ruhr) that Canada was not concerned with European affairs?

The plain truth is—it is known to everyone who knows what is going on in Ottawa—that Mr. King desires reversion to the pre-1911 policy of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

Sir Wilfrid, in an early flight of oratory, called upon Great Britain to “call us to your councils,” but at the Conference of 1911 he told British statesmen that Canada did not want to be consulted about the Declaration of London, because consultation involved responsibility “which Canada could not take.” Sir Wilfrid saw that a Canadian voice in foreign policy meant Canadian responsibility for foreign policy execution—in other words fuller participation in Empire defence. And as fuller participation in Empire defence did not suit the exigencies of Canadian politics, he said, in effect to Great Britain: “We do not want to help shape British policy. When

“We do not want to help shape British policy. When trouble arises we shall judge of the issues for ourselves. When Britain goes to war, Canada will be at war, but she will not necessarily be in the conflict.”

Sir Robert Borden, aided by the facts of the Great War—which seemingly destroyed the theory of isolation —altered Sir Wilfrid’s position; and Mr. Meighen, by taking a stand on the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, affirmed Sir Robert’s action. Mr. King would return to the policy of Laurier—and for Sir Wilfrid’s reason.

The facts are quite simple. Mr. Amery, who represents the British Admiralty, Mr. Bruce, who wants protection for Australia in the Pacific, and Mr. Massey, invincible in his devotion to Downing Street, will urge greater Canadian participation in Imperial Defence. They will rest their case upon the contention that inasmuch as the Dominions advise the British Government in respect of foreign policy it is but fair that they stand prepared to back up the consequences of their advice.

Jn other words, they are going to say to Mr.

“Canada, like Australia and South Africa, possesses a voice in the Empire’s foreign policy. It may not be as adequate or as effective as it might; but that can be remedied. We are prepared to make it effective; and in return we but ask that you stand prepared to back up possible results of your advice with—something more than a three-trawler fleet.”

Upon Mr. King’s reply—upon his choice between a voice in foreign policy, at the cost of a fleet, or no voice, and no fleet—most everything in this Conference will depend.

There will be talk about treaty-making powers, and the right to appoint ministers, and imperial preferences, but the real battle-ground of the conference will hinge upon this: Should the Dominions have a real voice in the Empire’s foreign policy, and, if so, how much should they pay for it?

“The Parts Men Play”

IN THIS Conference, as in all important assemblies, personalities will play a great part. For Britain there will be Premier Baldwin, a plain, quiet man, but a man not easily moved, and one tenacious in conviction. There will be Lord Curzon who, in pompous, portentous manner, interspersed with what somebody has called his “purring felinities,” will review world and foreign policy. There will be the Duke of Devonshire, experienced, but a little dull, and wholly friendly to Canada. And there will be Mr. Amery, the First Lord of the Admiralty, said to be a Birmingham Jew, a little aggressive man with very great ability but hardly captivating in manner. Mr.

Amery, who was once a journalist, and who is thoroughly familiar with Canada (he once broke a leg in the Rockies) will argue well for his Navy. He will state the case of the Sea Lords better than they could state it themselves; and it is safe to say that he will give Mr. King some exceedingly uncomfortable moments.

From South Africa will come General Smuts—a very considerable personage. In 1921 Smuts was so engrossed with Ireland that he took little part in the Conference, only occasionally dropping in to help Mr. Meighen against Mr.

Massey and Mr. Hughes, for whom Mr. Lloyd George acted as a brilliant duelling second.

This year, judging by his recent speeches ^at home, he is likely to be nN .Where

will he stand? Mr. King’s ministry, it is told, depends much upon Smuts. It is said that the South African Dutchmen put the ex-Boer General precisely in the position that Quebec Frenchmen put Mr. King; and that, consequently, the two men will find themselves natural allies.

It is a confidence that may turn out to be misplaced. General Smuts, in South Africa is known as “Slim Jan.” He is known as a politician who values the radical pose, but whose idealism is well tempered with realism; and it is not forgotten of him that while protesting against the harshness of the Treaty of Versailles, thus winning pacifist applause, his was the hand that actually wrote pensions into the Treaty as something that Germany should pay. It may be, of course, that General Smuts will deem it politically profitable to take sides with Mr. King. But it may also be

that reasoning that he cannot compete with General Hertzog for Nationalist support, he will decide to throw in his lot with those of more British views. And that, certainly, would be an awkward thing for Canada and Mr. King.

Mr. Massey, a big, bluff exUlsterman, who stepped down from a load of hay to get a premiership, will again represent New Zealand. He will do whatever the British want him to do. New Zealand, in its sentiments, is practically a county of England, and Mr. Massey is New Zealand sentiment personified. At the last Conference he was against anything with the slightest odor of autonomy. He wanted the Japanese Alliance renewed. He urged a naval unit in the Pacific. He was against Dominion ambassadors. And he wanted the Conference to send a message of greeting to an Orange demonstration in Belfast. Yet Mr. Massey is not the sort of leader that sways conferences. He is interesting

chiefly for the fact that, by some strange aspect of New Zealand temperament, he is the only war premier who still holds his job, and also because he is one of the survivors of Colonialism among Dominion statesmen.

A much more salient figure is Mr. Bruce, of Australia. He is not as vivid or as colorful a personality as “Billy Hughes,” whom he succeeds. Hughes was the enfant terrible of European council tables. A little, dried-up man, sallow, dyspeptic and deaf, he had tilted a lance with Wilson and defied the thunders of Clemen-

With his unwieldy ear trumpet on the table before him, with flashing eyes and twitching hands, he talked like a machine gun, spitting out invective; his words were javelins that pierced to kill. Bruce, more quiet, is yet hardly less interesting. Educated at Cambridge (where he was a rowing blue); a former officer of the British Army; English in temperament and outlook; partner in one of the largest soft goods business in Australia; a former Australian representative at the League of Nations; and with the ribbons of the Military Cross and the Croix de Guerre upon his service tunic, as well as a limp inherited as a legacy from the Somme, he is a strikingly fascinating figure. From the first he has struck a strongly Imperial note, and, beyond question he will be a formidable figure (for Mr. King) in the Conference.

To “match minds” with Curzon, Baldwin,. Bruce and Amery, Canada has Mr. King. Sir Lomer Gouin, Mr. Graham and Dr! Skelton. Mr. King’s powers in conference are unknown. On the hustings, or in a set speech in Parliament, he can be eloquent, but it is one thing to sway an audience of partizans with memorized periods and quite another thing to break a lance with a Baldwin or a Curzon in a conference. Mr. Meighen made that discovery. The expremier has an acute mind and a devastating vocabulary, but he found that his powers were barely equal to the suppleness of Lloyd George, the sharp fencing of Hughes and the subtleties of Churchill and Curzon. Mr. King, similarly, is certain to find that weapons which serve to repel Mr. Robert Forke are fairly inadequate instruments for the swordsmen of 10 Downing Street.

Sir Lomer Gouin ought to do well. Well poised, serene, confident, “slow to speak and swift to hear,” he will undoubtedly challenge respect. He has many qualities that attract Englishmen—dignity, taciturnity, reserve—and his charm and simplicity are certain to make strong appeal.

Hardly as much can be said for Mr. Graham. The Minister of Railways is a bluff, hail-fellow-well-met sort of person, but his obvious humor is hardly of the quality to tickle the risibilities of a Curzon, and one cannot imagine his peculiar after-dinner eloquence arousing the enthusiasm of a London audience.

Prof. Skelton’s usefulness remains to be seen. His main armor is his knowledge of Imperial questions; his weakness the Liberal partizanship that marred his “Life of Laurier,” accentuated by his severe doctrinal view of Empire responsibilities.

On the Drawing Room Front

L> UT the Canadian delegation in London will have much more to combat than the intellects of British statesmen. Pitted against them from the first, and hanging tenaciously to their flank until they leave for home, will be that fascinating, enchanting, subtle and potent thing known as British hospitality. At Claridge’s, whose splendor would have bewildered Solomon, Mr. King will be treated as a potentate. Stately flunkeys, decked out like Admirals, with furlongs of gold braid, will doctor his every whim. There will be fragrant roses in his rooms, choice wines upon his sideboard, Rolls-Royces to speed him to Whitehall or out to country houses, and ever so many charming notes and invitations from blue-blooded Duchesses and Countesses.

Mr. King would be more than human (which Ottawa

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knows he isn’t) if he didn’t succumb to such things. Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who was much more wise to the world, yielded more than a trifle. He went over to the Queen’s Jubilee in 1897, a “democrat to the hilt” and a believer in independence as the “polar star of our destiny” and three weeks later he took a knighthood and preached Imperial Federation.

“I am not sure whether the British Empire needs a new constitution,” he wrote to a friend, “but I am sure that every Jubilee guest will need one.” And his biographer, Prof. Skelton, thus naively explained his change:

“Dinners and luncheons, balls and receptions, Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, Cordwainers’ and Fishmongers’ banquets, Empire Trade League and National Liberal Club, Dublin and Derry, Edinburgh and Glasgow, The Mansion House and Lincoln’s Inn, garden parties and

country house week-ends, endless address to give and endless addresses to receive, D. C. L.’s from Oxford and LL.D.’s from Cambridge, brought the guests in touch with the England of thé governing classes.”

Mr. King will be invited to Buckingham Palace. The occasion will be a state dinner, and there will be an abundance of splendor. Great potentates of Empire, high functionaries of foreign states and most of the Royal Family will be there. The dinner and the music and the plate and the decorations and the jewels and the uniforms—all these will be real: and who will blame Mr. King, who will cast a stone, if he succumbs to these subtle influences?

Nor will that be all. For Mr. King will experience that most pleasant thing in life—an English country house. He will go out to Cliveden for a week-end, where the gracious Nancy Astor will beguile him

with her charms, and where he will hear the brilliant J. L. Garvin, editor of the Observer, in fcascinating table talk on British glory and power.

He will go, too, to the Guildhall luncheon, where archaic custom blends with modern brilliance, where each plate is banked with wine-glasses, and where the resulting oratory is always patriotic. He will be made a freeman of London and Glasgow and Edinburgh; will receive degrees from Oxford and Cambridge and old St. Andrews; and will get ponderous leaders in the Times. In a word, Mr. King will experience all those subtle charms of English hospitality which so captivated W. H. Page—the court and the honors and the orders and all the social and imperial spoils. And while one doubts whether he can successfully cope with Baldwin and Curzon in Council, one is certain that he will never, emerge unscathed from the battlefield of English hospitality.