Read CHAPTER VI - LOOKING TO WASHINGTON of The Day of Sir Wilfrid Laurier A Chronicle of Our Own Time , free online book, by Oscar D. Skelton, on

Canada and the States The fisheries dispute Political union Commercial union Unrestricted reciprocity Jesuits’ estates Unrestricted reciprocity

For desperate ills, desperate remedies. It is little wonder that policies looking to revolutionary change in political or commercial relations now came to take strong hold on the public mind. To many it appeared that the experiment in Canadian nationality had failed. Why not, then, frankly admit the failure and seek full political incorporation with either of the great centres of the English-speaking people, of whose political prestige and commercial success there was no question? Annexation to the United States, Imperial Federation, with a central parliament in the United Kingdom, each found a small but earnest company of supporters. Or, if the mass of the people shrank from one and held the other an impracticable dream, why not seek the closest possible commercial tie with either nation? Thus Commercial Union, or a zollverein between Canada and the United States, and Imperial Preferential Trade, or a zollverein between Canada and the United Kingdom and the other parts of the British Empire, came into discussion. What British and American conditions and opinion met these Canadian movements, and what changes were made in the programmes first urged, may next be reviewed. Canadian relations with the United States will be noted first.

In the decade from 1886 to 1896, when the Venezuela episode opened a valve for the steam to blow off, the relations between Canada and the United States were continuously at high tension. It was an era of friction and pinpricks, of bluster and retaliation. The United States was not in a conciliatory mood. It was growing in wealth and numbers and power, in unprecedented ways. Its people were one and all intensely proud of their country and satisfied with themselves. The muckraker had not yet lifted his voice in the land. The millionaire was still an object of pride and emulation, Exhibit A in the display of American superiority over all creation. No foreign danger threatened, no foreign responsibility restrained the provincial swagger. In short, the United States was ‘feeling its oats.’

Towards Great Britain it was specially prone to take an aggressive attitude. Still fresh was the memory of 1776 and 1812, fed by text-book rhetoric and thrown into relief by the absence of other foes. Still rankled the hostility of the official classes of Great Britain during the Civil War and Tory attacks upon American manners and American democracy. Irish-Americans in millions cherished a natural if sometimes foolishly directed hatred against the country that had misgoverned Erin and made it lose half its people. The rejection of Home Rule by the House of Commons in 1886, confirmed by the results of the general elections which followed, intensified this feeling. Canada, the nearest British territory, had to bear much of this ill-will, though she had no share of responsibility for its creation, just as she had borne the brunt of invasion in wars which were none of her making.

There were, however, other sources of trouble for which Canada was more directly responsible. She had followed the example of the United States in setting up a high tariff wall. Inevitably the adoption of protection by both countries led to friction. The spirit of which it was born and which in turn it nourished, the belief that one country found its gain in another’s loss, made for jealousy, and the rankling sense on Canada’s part that her policy had not succeeded made the feeling the sorer.

But the immediate occasion of the most serious difficulty was the revival of the northeastern fisheries dispute. The century-long conflict as to the privileges of American fishermen in Canadian and Newfoundland waters, under the Treaty of 1783 and the Convention of 1818, had been set at rest during the era of Reciprocity (1854-66) by opening Canadian fishing-grounds to Americans, practically in return for free admission of Canadian natural products to the United States. Then once more, by the Treaty of Washington in 1871, access to the inshore fisheries was bartered for free admission of fish and fish-oil plus a money compensation to be determined by a commission. The commission met at Halifax in 1877, Sir A. T. Galt representing Canada, and the award was set at $5,500,000 for the twelve years during which the treaty was to last. The United States condemned the award with much heat, and took occasion to abrogate the clause of the treaty on the earliest date for which notice could be given, July 1, 1885. For that season the fishing privileges were extended, but with the next year the whole dispute revived. The Canadian authorities insisted on restricting American fishermen rigidly to the letter of treaty privileges as Canada interpreted them. American fishing vessels were not only barred from fishing within the three-mile limit but were forbidden to enter a Canadian port to ship cargoes or for any other purpose, save for shelter, wood, water, or repairs. Several American boats were seized and condemned; and Canadian fishery cruisers patrolled the coasts, incessantly active. A storm of genuine if not informed indignation broke out in the United States. The action of the Canadian authorities was denounced as unneighbourly and their insistence on the letter of ancient treaties as pettifogging; and, with more justice, it was declared that the Canadian Government used the fishing privileges as a lever, or rather a club, to force the opening of the United States markets to all Canadian products.

President Cleveland sought a friendly solution by the appointment of a joint commission. Congress, more bellicose, passed unanimously (1887) a Retaliatory Act, empowering the president, if satisfied that American vessels were illegally or vexatiously harassed or restricted, to close the ports and waters of the United States against the vessels and products of any part of British North America. The president declined to fire this blunderbuss, and arranged for the commission on which Joseph Chamberlain, Sir Lionel Sackville-West, and Sir Charles Tupper were the British representatives. The draft treaty which the commission framed failed to pass the United States Senate, but a modus vivendi was arranged permitting American vessels port privileges upon payment of a licence fee. This, together with more considerate conduct on both sides, eased the tension.

Once Congress had taken the drastic step of threatening complete non-intercourse With Canada, a reaction set in, and many Americans began to consider whether some more pacific and thoroughgoing solution could not be found. Two were suggested, political union and commercial union.

The political union of the two democracies of the continent has always found advocates. In the United States many believed it was ’manifest destiny’ that some day the Stars and Stripes should float from Panama to the Pole. At times Canadians here and there had echoed this belief. It seemed to them better to be annexed at one stroke than to be annexed piecemeal by exodus, at the rate of fifty or a hundred thousand Canadians a year. In St John and Halifax, in Montreal and Toronto, and on the Detroit border, a few voices now called for this remedy, which promised to give commercial prosperity and political security instead of commercial depression and sectional, racial, and religious strife. Yet they remained voices crying in the wilderness. As in 1849, when men of high rank in the Conservative party notably three, who are known in history as colleagues of Sir John Macdonald and one of them as prime minister of Canada had joined with Quebec Rouges in prescribing the same remedy for Canada’s ills, so now, in the late eighties, the deep instinct of the overwhelming mass of the people revolted from a step which meant renouncing the memories of the past and the hopes of the future. Imperial and national sentiment both fought against it. It was in vain that Goldwin Smith gave his life to the cause, preaching the example of the union between Scotland and England. It was in vain that British statesmen had shown themselves not averse to the idea. In 1869, when Senator Sumner proposed the cession of Canada in settlement of the Alabama claims, and Hamilton Fish, the American secretary of state, declared to the British ambassador that ’our claims were too large to be settled pecuniarily and sounded him about Canada,’ the ambassador had replied that ’England did not wish to keep Canada, but could not part with it without the consent of the population.’ Wanted or not, the people of Canada had determined to stay in the Empire; and did stay until different counsels reigned in London. Even in cold-blooded and objective logic, Canada’s refusal to merge her destinies with the Republic could be justified as best for the world, in that it made possible in North America two experiments in democracy; possible, too, the transformation of the British Empire into the most remarkable and hopeful of political combinations. But it was not such reasoned logic that prompted Canadians. They were moved by deeper instincts, prejudices, passions, hopes, loyalties. And in face of their practically solid opposition the solution of the ‘Canadian Question’ had to be sought elsewhere than in political union with the United States.

Commercial union, or a zollverein between Canada and the United States, involved absolute free trade between the two countries, common excise rates, a common customs tariff on the seaboard, and the pooling and dividing according to population of the revenue. This was not a new proposal; it had been suggested time and again in both countries, from its advocacy by Ira Gould of Montreal in 1852 down to its advocacy by Wharton Barker of Philadelphia a strong opponent of reciprocity in 1886. But now, for the first time, the conjuncture of political and economic conditions on both sides of the line ensured it serious attention; and, for the first time, in Erastus Wiman, one of the many Canadians who had won fortune in the United States, the movement found an enthusiastic and unflagging leader. In 1887 Congressman Butterworth introduced a bill providing for free entrance of all Canadian products into the United States whenever Canada permitted the free entrance of all American products, and received a notable measure of support. In Ontario, under the leadership of Erastus Wiman and Goldwin Smith and Valencay Fuller, the latter a leading stock breeder, the movement won remarkably quick and widespread recognition: in a few months it had been endorsed by over forty Farmers’ Institutes and rejected by only three. Much of this success was due to the powerful and persistent advocacy of leading Toronto and Montreal newspapers. Needless to say, the movement met with instant and vigorous opposition from the majority of the manufacturers and from the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The movement had begun entirely outside the ordinary party lines, but its strength soon compelled the party leaders to take a stand for or against it. Neither party endorsed it, though both went far towards it. The Conservatives had long been in favour of a measure of free trade with the United States. The National Policy had been adopted partly in the hope that ‘reciprocity in tariffs’ would compel the United States to assent to ‘reciprocity in trade,’ and many who, like Goldwin Smith, had voted for protection in 1878, now called upon the Government to follow its own logic. But commercial union, with its discrimination against Great Britain and its joint tariffs made at Washington, did not appeal to Sir John Macdonald and his following. They were, however, prepared to go far. More than half the time of the Fisheries Commission of 1887, which sat for three months, was spent on tariff matters; and Sir Charles Tupper made the most thoroughgoing offer of free trade with the United States ever made by any Canadian Government ’an unrestricted offer of reciprocity.’ Congress, however, would not consent to discuss trade under pressure of fishery threats, and no terms were made.

The Liberal party was equally uncertain as to its policy. It was much more strongly in favour of freer trade than its opponents, and being in opposition, would be more likely to take up a policy opposed to the status quo. Sir Richard Cartwright in October 1887 came out clearly in favour of commercial union. What of the new leader of the party?

Mr Laurier’s first public address after his election to the leadership was given at Somerset, Quebec, in August 1887. After reviewing the deplorable discontent which pervaded the Dominion, due mainly to the Government’s policy, he referred to the trade issue. The restriction policy practised for a decade had led to a reaction, he declared, ’which has not stopped within moderate bounds; on the contrary, it has gone to extremes, and at this very hour the great majority of the farmers of Ontario are clamoring for commercial union with the United States.... For my part, I am not ready to declare that commercial union is an acceptable idea.’ The root of the commercial union movement, he continued, was the desire for reciprocity with the United States in some form, and to that policy the Liberal party had always been, and still remained, favourable.

In the following session the Liberal party made clear its position on the question. It definitely rejected by a large majority the proposal for commercial union. Adopting a suggestion of Mr J. D. Edgar, it advocated reopening negotiations with Washington to secure full and unrestricted reciprocity of trade. Under this policy, if carried to its full extent, all the products of each country would enter the other free, but each would continue in control of its own tariff, and the customhouses along the border would also remain. Sir Richard Cartwright opened the debate with a vivid summary of the backward and distracted condition of Canada, and of the commercial advantages of free access to the large, wealthy, and convenient market to the south. He concluded with a strong appeal to Canada to act as a link between Great Britain and the United States, and thus secure for the mother country the ally she needed in her dangerous isolation. Mr Laurier followed some days later. He emphasized the need of wider markets, of a population of consumers that would permit large-scaled industry to develop, and contended that any manufacturing industries which deserved to survive would thrive in the larger field. The same terms could not be offered England, for England had not a tariff in which to make reciprocal reductions. Canada would not always be a colony; what she wanted, however, was not political independence, but commercial independence. The opponents of the proposal had appealed to the country’s fears; he appealed to its courage, and exhorted all to press onward till the goal should be reached.

In parliament the discussion led to little result. The Government took its stand against unrestricted reciprocity, on the ground that it would kill infant manufacturing industries and lead to political absorption in the Republic, and the division followed party lines. Meanwhile in the country interest slackened, for the time. In the presidential campaign of 1888 the Republicans, by a narrow margin, won on a high-tariff platform, so that reciprocity seemed out of the question. In Canada itself a new issue had arisen. Once more race and religion set Quebec and Ontario in fierce antagonism.

The Jesuits, or members of the Society of Jesus, do not now for the first time appear in the history of Canada. In the days of New France they had been its most intrepid explorers, its most undaunted missionaries. ‘Not a cape was turned, not a river was entered,’ declares Bancroft, ‘but a Jesuit led the way.’ With splendid heroism they suffered for the greater glory of God the unspeakable horrors of Indian torture and martyrdom. But in the Old World their abounding zeal often led them into conflict with the civil authorities, and they became unpopular, alike in Catholic and in Protestant countries. So it happened that ‘for the peace of the Church’ the Pope suppressed the Society in 1773, and it remained dormant for forty years. After the Conquest of Canada it was decreed that the Jesuits then in the country should be permitted to remain and die there, but that they must not add to their numbers, and that their estates should be confiscated to the Crown. Lord Amherst, the British commander-in-chief, made an unsuccessful attempt to have these estates granted to himself; but in the Crown’s possession they remained, and fell to the province of Quebec at Confederation. This settlement had never been accepted. The bishops contended that the Jesuits’ estates should have been returned to the Church, and the Jesuits, who had come back to Canada in 1842, asserted their own rights to their ancient lands. Thus the thorny question as to what disposition should be made of these lands baffled the provincial authorities until 1888, when Honore Mercier, himself a pupil of the Jesuits, and now a most aggressively faithful son of the Church, grappled with the problem, and passed an act embodying a compromise which had been found acceptable by all parties concerned. The sum of $400,000 was to be paid in satisfaction of all claims, to be divided among the Jesuits, the Church authorities, and Laval University, in proportions to be determined by the Pope. At the same time $60,000 was voted to Protestant schools to satisfy their demands.

In Quebec the measure was accepted with little discussion. All the Protestant members in the legislature voted for it. But in Ontario the heather was soon on fire. It was not merely that the dispossessed Jesuits, whom some Protestants regarded as the very symbol and quintessence of clerical intrigue, were thus compensated by the state, but that the sanction of the Pope had been invoked to give effect to an act of a British legislature. The Protestant war-chiefs, D’Alton M’Carthy, Colonel O’Brien, and John Charlton, took up the tomahawk, and called on the Dominion Government to disallow the act. But Sir John Macdonald declined to intervene. A resolution in the House of Commons calling for disallowance was defeated by 188 to 13, the minority being chiefly Conservatives from Ontario.

In opposing the resolution Mr Laurier congratulated the Government on its tardy conversion from the vicious doctrine of centralization. The revolt of its followers from Ontario was the inevitable retribution due to a party which had pandered to religious prejudices in both provinces due to ’that party with a rigid Protestant face turning towards the west and a devout Catholic face turning towards the east’; and which at the same time had proclaimed the right to disallow any provincial act. He did not, however, base his position solely on the plea of provincial rights. In itself the legislation was just and expedient, a reasonable compromise between seriously conflicting claims. Nor would he listen to those who called upon the Liberals to emulate the Liberals of continental Europe in their anti-clerical campaigns. He preferred to take tolerant Britain as his model rather than intolerant France or Germany. Once more he declared, as he had declared in Quebec twelve years before, that he was a Liberal of the English school, not of the French.

Outvoted in parliament, the champions of militant Protestantism found strong support in the country. An Equal Rights Association was formed to resist the danger of Catholic domination which many believed imminent. It had less influence in the politics of the Dominion than in the politics of Ontario, where Oliver Mowat was solemnly accused of having conspired with Honore Mercier to raise the Jesuits to power. It contained many able and sincere men, yet its influence soon ceased. By 1894 its place was taken by the Protestant Protective Association, or P.P.A., a boycotting organization imported from the United States, which had a deservedly short life. But, while the fires burned low in the East, the torch had been passed on to the far West from D’Alton M’Carthy to Joseph Martin. Of the conflagration which ensued we shall learn in a later chapter.

Men will sometimes pray, or may try to prevent others from praying as they list; but they must always eat. The pendulum of public interest swung back to trade relations with the United States. Depression still pervaded farming and manufacturing centres alike, though the abandonment of the policy of federal coercion had lessened political discontent. The return of the Republicans to power in 1888, it has been seen, appeared to put freer trade relations out of the question. The M’Kinley tariff of 1890 slammed the door in Canada’s face, for in order to delude the American farmer into believing that protection was in his interest, this tariff imposed high and often prohibitive duties on farm products.

Should Canada retaliate, or make still another effort at a reasonable arrangement with its unneighbourly neighbour? The possibility of adjustment was not as remote as might have seemed probable. After all, reciprocity is as much a protective as a free-trade doctrine, since, as usually interpreted, it implies that the reduction in duties is a detriment to the country making it, only to be balanced by the greater privilege secured at the expense of the other’s home market. James G. Blaine, secretary of state in President Harrison’s Cabinet, was strongly in favour of reciprocity, particularly with Latin-American countries. In the same session which saw the passing of the M’Kinley Act, the House of Representatives agreed to the Hitt resolution, providing that whenever it should be certified that Canada was ready to negotiate for a complete or partial removal of all duties, the president should appoint three commissioners to meet the Canadian representatives, and report their findings.

This was the position of affairs when, early in 1891, Sir John Macdonald suddenly decided to dissolve parliament, in spite of an explicit promise to the contrary made a short time before. With the dissolution came an adroit attempt to cut the ground from under the feet of the Liberal party. It was asserted that, on the initiative of the United States, negotiations had been undertaken to settle all outstanding disputes, and to renew the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854, ’with the modifications required by the altered circumstances of both countries and with the extensions deemed by the Commission to be in the interests of Canada and the United States.’ This announcement greatly strengthened the Government’s position. Since the United States had taken the initiative there was likelihood of a successful outcome. Many who favoured reciprocity but felt doubtful as to the political outcome of the more sweeping proposals of the Opposition were thus led to favour the Government.

The announcement proved too audacious. Secretary Blaine indignantly denied that the United States had initiated the negotiations, and Sir Charles Tupper so admitted after the elections. Mr Blaine further made it plain that no treaty confined to natural products would be entertained. In the face of this statement the Government executed another sharp turn, and appealed to anti-American sentiment and protected interests, denouncing vigorously the Opposition’s policy as sure to lead to ruin, annexation, and the climax direct taxation. Sir John Macdonald issued a skilful address to the electors, and the cry of ‘the old flag, the old man, and the old policy’ appealed to noble feelings and to deplorable prejudice alike.

In his address to the Canadian people Mr Laurier arraigned the National Policy for its utter failure to bring the prosperity so lavishly promised. Reciprocal freedom of trade with the United States would give the larger market which had become indispensable. The commercial advantages of such a plan were so clear that they were not disputed, it was attacked entirely on other grounds. The charge that it would involve discrimination against Great Britain could not have much weight in the mouths of men whose object was to prevent the importation of English manufactures. If it did involve discrimination, if the interests of Canada and the motherland clashed, he would stand by his native land. But that discrimination was involved he did not admit. It was not essential to assimilate the Canadian to the American tariff: ’Should the concessions demanded from the people of Canada involve consequences injurious to their sense of honour or duty, either to themselves or to the motherland, the people of Canada would not have reciprocity at such a price.’ Direct taxation might be averted by retrenchment and revision of custom schedules. The charge that unrestricted reciprocity would lead to annexation was an unworthy appeal to passion and prejudice, and, if it meant anything, meant that it would ’make the people so prosperous that, not satisfied with a commercial alliance, they would forthwith vote for political absorption in the American Republic.’

The Government’s appeal to the flag was greatly aided by some letters and pamphlets of Mr Farrer and Congressman Hitt and other leaders in the commercial union movement, which were made public and which gave colour to the cry that unrestricted reciprocity was only a first step towards annexation. It was in vain that Oliver Mowat and Alexander Mackenzie, the latter now soon to pass from the scene, voiced the deep-lying sentiments of the Liberal party in favour of British connection, and indignantly denied that it was at stake in the reciprocity issue. Sir John Macdonald’s last appeal rallied many a wandering follower on grounds of personal loyalty, the campaign funds of the party were great beyond precedent, and the railway and manufacturing and banking interests of the country outweighed and outmanoeuvred the farmers. The Government was returned by a majority of thirty. In Ontario it had only four seats to the good and had a minority of the popular vote, while in Quebec the Liberals at last secured a bare majority. The other provinces, however, stood by the party in power, and gave the Government another lease of life for five years.

The smoke of battle had not cleared when a remarkable letter from Edward Blake, the late leader of the Liberal party, was published. It was a curiously inconclusive document. It began with a scathing indictment of the Conservative policy and its outcome: ’Its real tendency has been towards disintegration and annexation.... It has left us with a smaller population, a scanty immigration, and a North-West empty still; with enormous additions to our public debt and yearly charge, an extravagant system of expenditure and an unjust tariff, with restricted markets whether to buy or to sell.... It has left us with lowered standards of public virtue and a death-like apathy in public opinion, with racial, religious, and provincial animosities rather inflamed than soothed.... It has left us with our hands tied, our future compromised.’ A preference in the English market was out of the question. Unrestricted free trade with the United States would bring prosperity, give men, money, and markets. Yet it would involve assimilation of tariffs and thus become identical with commercial union. ‘Political Union,’ he added in a cryptic postscript, ’though becoming our probable, is by no means our ideal, or as yet our inevitable, future.’

Mr Blake had persistently withheld his aid and advice from the leaders of the party since his resignation. His action now was resented as a stab in the back, and the implication that the Liberal policy was identical with commercial union was stoutly denied. If, as Mr Laurier had made clear in his electoral address, negotiations proved that reciprocal arrangements could not be made except on such terms, they would not be made at all. Yet the letter had undoubted force, and materially aided the Government in the by-elections.

The Government formally carried out its undertaking to open negotiations with the United States. Sir Charles Tupper, Sir John Thompson, and George E. Foster went to Washington and conferred with Secretary Blaine. But the negotiators were too far apart to come to terms, and the proposals were not seriously pressed. Later, when the tide of reaction brought the Democrats back to power in 1892, the Conservatives made no attempt to renew negotiations; and later still, when the Liberals came to power in Canada, the Republicans were back in office on a platform of sky-high protection.

Meanwhile, the increase of exports of farm products to Great Britain promised the larger markets sought, and made admission to the United States of less pressing importance. When, in 1893, the Liberal party met in national convention at Ottawa, limited reciprocity, ’including a well-considered list of manufactured articles,’ was endorsed, but it was subordinated as part of a general demand for a lower tariff, now again prominent in the party programme.