John Stephen Willison.

Reminiscences, political and personal online

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by Provincial legislation, and authorizes the Parlia-
ment of Canada to make remedial laws for the due
execution of such measures as may be adjudged neces-
sary in the circumstances. But while the Judicial Com-
mittee declined to give explicit direction to the Federal
authority, it closed its judgment with these pregnant
sentences : "It is certainly not essential that the statutes
repealed by the Act of 1890 should be re-enacted, or
that the precise provisions of these statutes should again
be made law. The system of education embodied in the
Acts of 1890 no doubt commends itself to, and ade-
quately supplies the wants of, the great majority of the
inhabitants of the Province. All legitimate ground of
complaint would be removed if that system were sup-
plemented by provisions which would remove the
grievances upon which the appeal is founded, and were
modified as far as might be necessary to give effect to
these provisions."

Fortified by this judgment, the Liberal Government
of Manitoba declared that under no circumstances
would it sanction the restoration of the separate school
system, and refused absolutely to obey the remedial
order issued by the federal authorities. The Provin-
cial ministers, however, professed every disposition to
consider and remove any grievance or injustice under
which the minority could be shown to labour, and to
modify any harsh features in the existing regulations of
the Provincial Department of Education, if such could
be discovered. All efforts to effect a compromise
between the Federal and Provincial authorities proving
unsuccessful, the Remedial Bill re-establishing separate



schools in Manitoba was introduced in the House of
Commons, opposed by the Liberal party and, as has
been said, defeated by obstruction, in which its oppon-
ents persisted until by effluxion of time the legal life of
Parliament expired. It is remarkable that the party
ranged behind the Remedial Order commanding
the restoration of separate schools in Manitoba was
led by the statesman who had abolished separate schools
in Nova Scotia, while the leader of the forces opposed
to the coercion of Manitoba was the statesman who,
nine years later, guaranteed separate schools in Alberta
and Saskatchewan. It is not necessary now to consider
the terms of the settlement agreed upon by the Laurier
Government and the Greenway Administration, since
its provisions have been abrogated by the Liberal Gov-
ernment which now holds office in Manitoba and Eng-
lish made the only language in the schools of the Prov-
ince. There is no doubt, however, that during his term
of office Sir Wilfrid Laurier pressed again and again
for concessions to the Roman Catholic minority of
Manitoba beyond those yielded in the settlement of
1896, but at least in the letter nothing substantial was
conceded by the Provincial authorities.

When I left The Globe in 1902 I had no thought of
a political separation from Sir Wilfrid Laurier. I
knew that he desired to guarantee separate schools in
Alberta and Saskatchewan when the Western Terri-
tories were divided into Provinces, but I doubted if he
would ever give effect to his intention and doubted more
strongly if the Liberal party would agree to establish
in Alberta and Saskatchewan a system of schools which
it would not restore in Manitoba. But during the
electoral campaign of 1904 I became convinced that the



new Parliament would concede the demand of the
Western Territories for Provincial autonomy and that
separate schools would be guaranteed to the religious
minority. In articles in The Daily News I asserted
that this was Sir Wilfrid Laurier's intention and argued
that the country should not be left in ignorance of what
was contemplated. But Laurier would neither affirm
nor deny and the country was uninterested. When the
Autonomy Bills were introduced in 1905 establishing
separate schools in Alberta and Saskatchewan and Fed-
eral control over natural resources, no one who has read
my History of Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the Liberal
Party can think that I had any choice but to oppose
the measures. Even with the guarantees provided by
Gait's educational clauses in the British North America
Act, it seems to be settled by the deliverance of the Privy
Council in the Manitoba appeals that a Province
always excluding Ontario and Quebec cannot be
forced to establish a separate school system, and that all
the fair obligations of the constitution are fulfilled by
provisions in the Public School law which protect a
minority from offence to their faith or infringement
upon their religious susceptibilities. Gait held that
under the exceptional conditions which surrounded the
English population in Quebec this protection for Pro-
testants was essential, but it is inconceivable that he
would have taken this ground if there had been any
prospect that Lower Canada would establish and main-
tain a non-denominational Public School system such
as exists in Ontario, in Manitoba, in British Columbia,
and in the Atlantic Provinces. In 1875, when the Act
establishing the Territorial Government was before the
Senate, George Brown protested against the extension



of the separate school system to the Territories. He
contended that: "This provision was quite contrary to
the British North America Act." "Nothing was more
clear," he said, "than that each Province should have
absolute control over education." He thought that was
the only principle upon which the Union Act could
continue. If the Dominion Government interfered
with local matters we would get into inextricable con-
fusion with the Provinces. The safe way was to
let each Province suit itself in such matters. This
country was filled by people of all classes and creeds,
and there would be no end of confusion if each class
had to have its own peculiar school system. It had
been said this clause was put in for the protection of
the Protestants against the Catholics, the latter being
the most numerous. But he, speaking for the Pro-
testants, was in a position to say that they did not want
that protection. In this case it was proposed that the
national machinery should be used for the imposition
and collection of taxes upon persons of peculiar denom-
inations for the support of schools of their kind. It
was an attempt to force upon that country peculiar
views with regard to education.

It is true Brown contended that from the moment
the Act passed and the Western Territories became part
of the Union, "they came under the Union Act and
under the provisions with regard to separate schools."
But we are concerned with his statement of the inten-
tion of the founders of Confederation rather than with
his legal opinion. Besides, his position was not sus-
tained by the judgment of the Privy Council in the
Manitoba cases. It was surely an extraordinary
contention that the Canadian Parliament could not



repeal a statute which it was under no compulsion
to enact, and a still more extraordinary assumption
that the four millions of people in older Canada who
maintained separate school systems should undertake
to determine for all time what should be the character
of the local institutions over territories which in half a
century will probably have a greater population than
the older Provinces. There is a story of a Tammany
politician who lobbied a Senator in order to secure his
support for a particular concession, and when told by
the Senator that the act would be unconstitutional,
insisted that the Constitution should not be allowed to
interfere between friends. In this spirit we have often
interpreted the Constitution of Canada, bred among the
people bitter enmities and endangered the very founda-
tions of the Commonwealth. Through the resolute
intervention of Mr. Clifford Sifton the Autonomy Bills
were vitally amended, although his attitude involved
his resignation from the Cabinet. The Bills were op-
posed by the Conservative Opposition under Mr.
Borden, but the party which a few years before had
attempted to restore separate schools in Manitoba was
not in a favourable position to resist separate schools
for Alberta and Saskatchewan. Ever since these Prov-
inces were created their affairs have been administered
by Liberal Governments, and this perhaps could be
offered as evidence that the educational provisions of
the Autonomy Acts are consonant with Western feeling
and adapted to Western conditions. It has to be said,
too, that aside perhaps from unwise concessions to "for-
eign" elements, the educational departments of the two
Provinces have been conducted with courage and effi-
ciency and in appropriations alike for elementary and



higher education the Legislatures have been liberal and
far-sighted. One still thinks, however, that the educa-
tional provisions of the British North America Act
should have been incorporated in the Provincial Con-
stitutions and the people permitted to determine the
character of their educational institutions. Parlia-
ment, however, decreed otherwise, and what was the
concern of Canada when the Provinces were created is
now the sole concern of the Western people. I opposed
the reservation of the natural resources by the Dominion
as strongly as I opposed the educational clauses of the
Autonomy Acts, and in support of that position the
Liberal Governments of the three Western Provinces
are now united.

Over language, as over education, there have been
bitter and dangerous political quarrels in Canada. The
French population constitutes nearly one-third of the
total population of the country. There are more than
1,750,000 French-speaking people in Quebec, nearly
250,000 in Ontario, and between 110,000 and 125,000
in the Atlantic Provinces. There is a compact French
settlement at St. Boniface in the old Red River Terri-
tory and French groups in the Western Provinces of
Saskatchewan and Alberta. The Dominion is divided
into 235 Parliamentary constituencies. Quebec elects
65 members to the House of Commons, and there is not
a single division in which French voters are not influ-
ential. At Confederation the Eastern Counties of Que-
bec were a reserve for English-speaking people. But
the pressure of thrifty French farmers and changing
social and educational conditions drove out the English
element. The French advance was gradual, but irre-
sistible. The ultimate conquest was decisive. Twenty-



five years ago eleven Quebec Counties had an English
majority. In all these the English-speaking Protestants
have become a minority. There are groups of French
voters in ninety out of the 235 Parliamentary constitu-
encies, and in at least seventy of these the French con-
stitute a majority of the electors. The facts constitute
an impressive appeal for unity between the French and
English elements. But if the Constitution is observed
there can be no legitimate ground for conflict. The
British North America Act clearly provides that
French and English shall have equal status in Quebec,
in the House of Commons and Senate and in Federal
courts and documents. Sir Wilfrid Laurier said when
the Western Autonomy Bills were before Parliament:
"The fathers of Confederation did not pretend to
authorize the French language in any part of the
Dominion except in this Parliament and in the Province
of Quebec. Everywhere else the people were left
free to deal with the matter as they thought fit." As Sir
Wilfrid Laurier interpreted the Constitution, so it is
interpreted by the Imperial Privy Council. Clearly
outside of Quebec French has no equal constitutional
status with English. What recognition French may
obtain elsewhere is by consent and not by right or
privilege. On the other hand, French should not be
treated as an alien language in Canada. It is desirable
on this English-speaking continent that French people
should be able to speak the English language in order
that they may have equal advantage and opportunity in
commercial and industrial pursuits, in the services of
the State, and in all activities and offices where Eng-
lish is required. But it is desirable also that, after
English, French should be a preferential language in



the high schools, colleges and universities of the Eng-
lish Provinces. How much misunderstanding would
be avoided and how many misconceptions removed if
the public men of the English Provinces could speak to
the people of Quebec in their own language. It is vain
to think that the French of Quebec can be made to
speak English by pressure from outside. It is just as
certain that pressure from Quebec in the strain of men-
ace prejudices the position of French in the English
Provinces. Demands for which no constitutional war-
rant exists provoke resistance. A concession extorted
may be yielded in the letter and defeated in the prac-
tice. A concession yielded in amity endures and pro-
duces the fine fruit of sympathy and understanding.

We talk much in Canada about the rights of minor-
ities and the duties of majorities. Much of what is said
in this connection is wise and wholesome. But there
are other considerations. There are the constitutional
rights of majorities and the constitutional duties of
minorities. The obligation to respect and observe the
Constitution lies as clearly upon minorities as upon
majorities. A habit in Canada, which has produced
infinite mischief, is that we think of the unwritten Con-
stitution of Great Britain and imagine that we, too,
have an unwritten Constitution. But as a matter of
fact, we have a Constitution as arbitrary and inflexible
as that of the United States. It is the charter of every
Province and of every element of the people. When we
desire to alter its provisions, to impose new obligations
upon a majority, or to restrict the privileges of a min-
ority, we should submit the proposal to all the Legis-
latures or to the sovereign people and abide by the
result. It has been said that "unsettled questions have



no pity for the repose of nations." In Canada, educa-
tion and language have been unsettled questions for a
century and chiefly because we have sought to effect
constitutional changes by political manoeuvring and
bargaining. The feature of the American Constitution
which provides a method for constitutional changes
stabilizes the compact of States and ensures popular
sovereignty. One cannot but think that strict construc-
tionists of the Canadian Constitution are the best friends
of minorities, as fidelity to the Constitution is a supreme
obligation upon all those who are responsible for the
orderly working of Canadian institutions. When all is
said, no people in the world have better learned the les-
sons of toleration than those of Canada. There is no
necessary conflict between Ontario and Quebec or be-
tween French and English. It has to be admitted that
the compact with the Protestant minority has been
generally observed and respected by the Legislature of
Quebec, but it is just as true that the Governments of
Ontario have scrupulously observed and liberally inter-
preted the provisions of the Constitution affecting the
French and Roman Catholic minority. In neither
Province is the minority benefited by pressure from out-
side for concessions which are not required by the Con-
stitution or by agitation which excites the prejudices of
the majority and endangers privileges which, even if
they exceed the strict requirements of the Constitution,
conciliate diverse elements, nourish good will, and
solidify the national structure.





There is a touch of tragedy in the illusion of office.
For a political party Opposition is a school of virtue.
In office there is danger that ideals will lose their lustre
and principles their rigidity and authority. The influ-
ences which control a party in Opposition are far less
powerful when the party has assumed the responsibil-
ities of government. There is all the difference between
human nature tempted and human nature untempted.
In Opposition, the idealists and reformers within a
political party struggle for eradication of abuses, while
all the forces which fatten upon patronage, contracts
and subsidies beat upon the doors of Cabinets. As it is
at the seat of Government, so it is in the constituencies.
Those who sought office for their leaders in order to
secure reforms in legislation and administration are
thrust aside by those who are concerned with very prac-
tical objects. Honest, economical and efficient govern-
ment comes only by the grace of God and the eternal
vigilance of ministers.

The character of a political party is established and
its standards determined not by the easy and irrespon-
sible professions of Opposition, but by its power to
resist evil influences and its fidelity to principles and
convictions when its leaders control the Treasury and
command a majority in Parliament. It will be clear if
one goes back to Confederation, that neither Canadian
party has had any peculiar reserve of virtue or any
pre-eminence in evil. The vices of office have been as



plainly revealed in one party as in the other. If this
could be admitted and all the nauseous Pharisaical
trumpeting of press and platform over degrees of
corruption and relative standards of morals could
be silenced, the corruptionists of one party would
find less shelter behind the corruptionists of the
other, and devotion to party would not require tolera-
tion of rascality, defence of moral treason and protec-
tion of public brigandage. In a free country men will
divide, and should divide, on questions of policy and
methods of administration, but the public judgment
should fall as sternly and inflexibly upon ministers of
the Crown and representatives of the people who sub-
ordinate the public interest to private or party advan-
tage, as the sentences of the judges fall upon lesser
criminals who rob private houses or swindle the share-
holders in commercial companies.

In Canada the vicious notion has prevailed that the
journalist associated with a political party was under
peculiar obligation to defend dubious transactions and
suspected ministers. If he faltered or hesitated, the
whisper ran that he was disloyal to the party, afflicted
with inconvenient scruples, and subject to dangerous
moral impulses. The press of Canada, however, like
the press of Great Britain and the United States, now
generally revolts against such unhappy servitude, and
nothing is more certain than that administrative and
electoral corruption become less common if evil
practices go undefended. What can be more
humiliating and discreditable to any country than
continuous attack upon the integrity of its political
leaders? The effect is not to elevate, but to debase pub-
lic morals, to bring free institutions into contempt, and



to make a seat in Parliament, which should be the chief
place to which a citizen may aspire, a dubious and
equivocal distinction. For thirty years I have had a
close relation to political leaders in Canada. I saw
something of the inside of both the old national political
organizations. Looking through the files of Canadian
newspapers, one is distressed to find how much space
has been devoted to charges of corruption and how
closely the practices of one party in office resemble
those of the other. Every species of offence of which
Conservative Governments were guilty was committed
by Liberal Governments. Liberals who were intoler-
ant of corruption under Conservative Governments be-
came submissive and placable when like methods were
employed by Liberal Administrations. The masses of
both parties hated corruption, but as between success
in the constituencies and retention of office upon the
one hand and decent electoral and administrative meth-
ods upon the other, the appeal of party often prevailed,
political standards were debased and the nation de-
famed. It is true that there was gross exaggeration of
the actual degree of corruption which prevailed alike
under Conservative and Liberal Administrations; but
it is just as true that for long periods in Canada we
have had government for party rather than government
for the country, and inevitably the moral and material
consequences were represented in a devitalized public
opinion and gross waste of public money.

When the Liberal party succeeded to office in 1896
there was expectation of a moral and political revival.
One feels that the standards were set above the level of
human nature. Among the achievements of the Laurier
Government are many measures of enduring value to



Canada. There was, too, a redistribution of constitu-
encies distinguished by fair consideration for the politi-
cal minority. For this example of decent equity, which
has been influential in subsequent redistributions, Sir
Wilfrid Laurier was greatly responsible. One
feels that the "Gerrymander" will never again be a
tolerated instrument of political warfare in Canada.
But there was no such regeneration of electoral methods
nor any such fresh infusion of integrity in the adminis-
tration of public affairs as a complete redemption of
Liberal pledges in opposition required. All the litera-
ture of the Liberal party produced in Opposition could
have been adopted by the Conservative party from 1896
to 1911, for there was a strange likeness between the
methods of the men in office from the fall of the Mac-
kenzie Government in 1878 down to the second restora-
tion of the Conservatives a third of a century later. In
the Mackenzie Government Cauchon was the object of
pursuit, and he, indeed, was as strongly attacked by
Liberals before he was taken into a Liberal Cabinet.
Under Sir John Macdonald there was constant attack
upon Caron and Langevin and Pope and Tupper, and
the Conservative leader himself, as the chief pillar in
the edifice of Tory corruption which Liberal writers
erected with so much industry and enthusiasm. Under
Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Tarte and Blair and Sifton and
Prefontaine and Pugsley were denounced as "corrup-
tionists." I single none of these out for attack or asper-
sion. I am thinking rather of public men who escaped
attack, but through whose hands money poured into the
constituencies as naturally and freely as water falls at
Niagara. I am thinking, too, of those who received but
did not collect. Possibly in the other world the balances



will be adjusted. History makes George Brown a pur-
ist and Sir John Macdonald a corruptionist. But it
was George Brown who suggested a "Big Push" and
insisted that it was necessary to "Come down hand-
somely." Curiously, "Big Push" became an insignia
of discredit to the Conservative politician who exposed
George Brown's appeal for political subscriptions.
Both Macdonald and Brown, however, stand high
above their detractors, even though they used the poli-
tical instruments of their time with greater courage
than conscience.

One has more respect for the bold front of the doer
than for the feeble hypocrisy of the receiver. It is true,
as Mr. Tarte said, that elections are not won by prayer.
Even the legitimate cost of an election in Canada is
heavy. When the allowances made out of the campaign
fund for doubtful purposes are taken into account, the
total runs into millions. A few men raise the money for
elections. Too often candidates who gouge the last
dollar out of the fund are the first to roll their eyes at
the collectors. The ward politician is often a nauseous
and noisy nuisance, but he is a patriot compared with
the obnoxious pharisees of the clubs who defame
"politicians," and deplore corruption but never give a
day of honest service to the country or a decent subscrip-
tion to meet the necessary expenses of elections. Nine-
teen out of every twenty men in the Parliaments and
Legislatures of Canada are honest and anxious to ad-
vance and protect the public interest. No doubt they
often betray excessive zeal for party, but they do not
stealorgetrich. Democracy is a shabby paymaster. We
bleed members of Parliament for the churches, for
sporting organizations, for social entertainments, for



fairs, concerts and testimonials, and for a multitude of
other projects by which busy people think they benefit
the community. To some people the indemnity or the
ministerial salary may seem to be excessive. But ask

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Online LibraryJohn Stephen WillisonReminiscences, political and personal → online text (page 19 of 25)