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the treasury. It is true that these evils would have



appeared under a provincial system of subsidies, but
there would have been more rigid selection of projects
and more direct responsibility to the people. It is said
that a Conservative member for a Nova Scotia constitu-
ency, pleading for a subsidy for a local railway, was
told by Sir John Macdonald that he doubted if the road
could develop any traffic if it was constructed. The

answer of the member was, "Traffic be d . I want

the road to carry me back to Parliament." There was,
however, a substantial advantage in assumption of local
railways by the Dominion if otherwise the federal Com-
mission could not have exercised control over the whole
railway system of the country. The conflict between
state and federal authority has made just and effective
regulation of American railway charges exceedingly
embarrassing and difficult.

In 1897 I wrote and printed a pamphlet on the Rail-
way Question in Canada. I argued for effective regula-
tion of freight charges and against unnecessary duplica-
tion of railways. "Canada," said the pamphlet, "is a
country of enormous distances, of length rather than
breadth, and trade between the provinces is difficult
and transportation charges very heavy. In these facts
we have conclusive arguments against the rash multi-
plication of through roads and the consequent mainten-
ance of needless transportation facilities. In truth, to
construct another great through road in Canada would
be very like adopting a fiscal measure imposing a tax
of fifteen or twenty per cent, on all inter-provincial
trade." I said : "We must not forget that freight rates
are a form of taxation, and that if the tax bearers be
few the burden must be heavy. If we divide the traffic
between competing roads the load must be heavier



still. If we increase and concentrate the traffic and
multiply the population we have a right to reduction
of charges and improvement in service. Railway mon-
opoly under efficient regulation will give lower freight
charges than any system of unregulated competiton, or
even a system of competition regulated by public
authority." I believed that we should double-track the
Canadian Pacific along Lake Superior and across the
West as traffic should require, that branch roads should
be constructed as population increased, that the system
should be designed to effect compact settlement, and
that traffic from all the branches and extensions should
feed the through road, and freight rates be reduced by
public authority as revenues should warrant. Possibly
the proposals were impracticable. At least the country
would not listen.

The common criticism was that I was a subsidized
agent of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. If
so, there never has been any recognition of the contract
nor any payment on account. The pamphlet was writ-
ten twenty-two years ago, and no doubt as settlement
increased and population spread over greater areas a
second transcontinental road became necessary. But
there never was any justification for long stretches of
duplication and three through systems. It was believed
when the Grand Trunk Pacific was projected that an
amalgamation with the Canadian Northern would be
effected. But the rival interests could not be reconciled.
Purely sectional and political considerations explain the
duplication of the Intercolonial. We builded in Can-
ada as the railway lobby demanded and as political
exigencies dictated. It may be that as the country
develops a great railway system built with cheap money



may become a valuable national asset, but for the time
the burden is heavy and we could have builded with
greater wisdom even if we had had no other object
than to endow future generations with an adequate
system of transportation.




Mystery surrounds the decision of the Laurier Gov-
ernment to establish a fiscal preference in favour of
imports from Great Britain. It is certain that no such
action was contemplated by the Liberal leaders before
they took office. In 1892 Mr. L. H. Davies, of Prince
Edward Island, had offered an amendment to a motion
by Mr. McNeill, of North Bruce, in favour of recipro-
cal preferences, in effect that, as Great Britain admit-
ted the products of Canada free of duty, the scale of
Canadian duties levied on goods mainly imported from
Great Britain should be reduced. But, while this pro-
posal probably expressed the sincere conviction of Mr.
Davies, many of his parliamentary associates were
chiefly concerned to embarrass the Government and the
Conservative Imperialists who were as rigid protec-
tionists for Canada as any other group in Parliament.
Indeed, the Liberal parliamentary party was still com-
mitted to unrestricted reciprocity with the United
States. There was even a disposition to declare more
definitely for direct discrimination against Great Bri-
tain. As editor of The Globe, I represented to Mr.
Laurier that any such course would be fatal to Liberal
candidates in the constituencies and that it was necessary
to recede from the position which the party had taken
rather than to persist in flagrant defiance of the British
sentiment of the country. I had knowledge that this
was a common feeling among Liberals. I knew that
there would be a formidable revolt against any proposal



for open and deliberate discrimination against British
imports. The true feeling of the party was soon re-
vealed and, as has been said, was expressed in the resolu-
tion subsequently adopted by the National Liberal

The leaders also became convinced long before the
general election of 1896 that it would be impossible to
"eliminate the principle of protection from the tariff."
Whether the country understood or not, there was
deliberate adjustment of the party to a moderate and
practical fiscal policy in many of the speeches and much
of the literature of the campaign. One recalls the let-
ters exchanged between Mr. Laurier and Mr. George
H. Bertram, of Toronto, and many private and public
assurances that there would be no revolutionary fiscal
changes. This was so clearly the attitude of The Globe
that it was doubted by Conservative candidates if the
paper expressed the actual spirit and intention of the
Liberal leaders. Nor was the chief object to conciliate
protectionists. It was recognized by the official leaders
of the party that any radical reduction of duties was
impracticable and impossible, and that it was desirable
to prepare the country for the position which would
have to be taken should they succeed in the election.

A curious story attaches to a speech which Mr.
Laurier delivered at Winnipeg. In the report as pub-
lished there was a declaration in favour of "free trade
as it is in England." He told me later that he had re-
fused, despite great pressure, to use the phrase which
was beloved of Western Liberal candidates and that an
eager and importunate colleague, distressed at his cau-
tion, had incorporated the sentence in the report of his
address. He could not challenge the accuracy of the



report without a practical repudiation of the position of
the free trade extremists in the party, nor could he
expose the associate who had revised the address with-
out authority. But he would sometimes recall the in-
cident when he was denounced for apostasy to his plat-
form pledges. Mr. Borden once said that Laurier had
promised prohibition as it was in Maine, and free trade
as it was in England, but had maintained protection as
it was in Maine and prohibition as it was in England.
The truth is that Laurier did not declare himself in
favour of prohibition nor did he believe that complete
free trade was practicable in Canada. The whole argu-
ment of the Liberal party in 1896, however, was for
lower tariff, although in the speeches of the leaders
there is no definite forecast of the British preference.
But when the leaders attained office and redemption of
the fiscal pledges became the immediate concern, it was
recognized that substantial duties against American
imports must be maintained and that even upon goods
from Great Britain the tariff could not be greatly re-
duced without depleting the revenue and endangering
the position of Canadian industries. In these circum-
stances the suggestion of lower duties upon British
imports was the happy solution of a perplexing

It will be remembered that in the campaign the
Patrons of Industry and the Third Party, under Mr.
D'Alton McCarthy, had candidates in various constitu-
encies. Between the Patrons and the Liberal party
there was organized co-operation. So Mr. McCarthy
was concerned to damage the Government and assist the
Opposition. But in consideration of Mr. McCarthy's
attitude towards Quebec the true relation between Mr.



Laurier and himself was not disclosed. At a meeting
at Owen Sound, Mr. McCarthy was asked to say what
he thought of Laurier. He smiled and suggested softly
that he doubted if a frank answer to the question would
be of advantage to the Liberal leader. What he had
in mind was that praise from McCarthy in Ontario
would not help Laurier in Quebec. Mr. McCarthy
was an advocate of Imperial fiscal preferences, while
the Patrons of Industry demanded a revenue tariff and
transfer of taxation from necessaries to luxuries. All
three groups supported the British preference when the
proposal was submitted to Parliament. Possibly Mr.
McCarthy suggested the cardinal principle of the
Fielding Tariff, but as to that I cannot speak with
knowledge. I never sought to discover the origin of the
preference, although I was consulted before the pro-
posal was considered by the Cabinet.

Through Mr. George H. Bertram, who came to me
with a message from Laurier, I had the first intimation
that the economic practicability and the political ad-
vantages of discrimination in favour of countries which
admitted Canadian products free of duty was a subject
of consideration at Ottawa. Naturally, I gave instant
support to the proposal as politically advantageous, as
agreeable to Canadian and British feeling, and as a
method of escape from the position in which advocacy
of free trade with the United States had involved the
Liberal party. It was clear that the country would
approve preferential treatment of British manufactures
and that no general feeling in favour of equal treatment
of American manufactures could be developed. Thus
the British preference was an Act of Extrication, of
Emancipation, and of Indemnification for pledges



which could not be fulfilled. Liberal Ministers, how-
ever, in establishing the preference, were not imple-
menting any unholy compact with manufacturers, but
were governed by industrial and national considerations
which in the actual situation of the country could not
be disregarded by practical and responsible statesmen.
There was singular boldness in the determination of
the Canadian Cabinet to offer the preference to Great
Britian and compel the Imperial Government to reject
the concession or denounce the German and Belgian
treaties which prevented discrimination by the Domin-
ions in favour of the Mother Country. Indeed, the pre-
ference was imposed upon Great Britain, and there
were British statesmen who denounced the old treaties
with reluctance and in slumberous wonder over the
serene audacity of an inconsiderate colony. Laurier
was attacked for not exacting a reciprocal preference
from Great Britain. But he was convinced that no
such preference could be obtained except upon condi-
tions which Canada could not accept. As it was, the
Canadian offer was regarded with suspicion by rigid
British free traders. Mr. Chamberlain had not yet
adopted "tariff reform," and among Unionists and Lib-
erals alike there was uncompromising adhesion to the
teaching of the Manchester economists. While Laurier
was in London, in 1897, Mr. Chamberlain declared
that, except on the basis of free trade within the Empire,
he would not touch preference "with a pair of tongs."
This, however, was said in a conversation between
Laurier and himself and was not available as a defence
for the Canadian Government against the attacks of
opponents. In the autumn of 1897 there was a bye-
election in Centre Toronto. Mr. George H. Bertram,



the Liberal candidate, was opposed by Mr. O. A.
Rowland. At every Conservative meeting there was
criticism of Laurier for "the free gift" of preference to
the Mother Country, when preferential treatment of
Canadian products could have been obtained if the
Liberal leader had not been more anxious to secure
the "Cobden medal" than to initiate a system of Im-
perial protection. During the contest Laurier came to
Toronto and was at pains to give me an exact statement
of Mr. Chamberlain's position. He did not authorize
me to make any public use of the statement, nor did he
suggest that there was any obligation of discretion or
silence. For a day or two I hesitated, but the Con-
servative attack persisted and I persuaded myself that
Mr. Chamberlain's position should be stated. The
Globe's explanation was cabled to England and became
the subject of a question in the Imperial Parliament.
In reply, Mr. Chamberlain frankly admitted its accur-
acy and thus gave the confirmation which was required.
Shortly afterward I suggested to Laurier that I was
probably in disfavour for using Mr. Chamberlain's
statement without authority. His answer was, "My
dear fellow, that is what I wanted you to do." I thought
I had read his mind, but one cannot always be certain
that a statement communicated in private is intended for

Once I asked Laurier how the famous letter from
Father Lacombe, intimating that the Roman Catholic
bishops were united in support of the Manitoba Re-
medial Bill and would be as united against any public
man who opposed the measure, came to be published.
He said, "I do not know, but it was wise to have the
letter appear in The Montreal Daily Star instead of in



a Liberal newspaper." It was necessary that his poli-
tical associates should have knowledge of the letter, and
one doubts if he emphasized its confidential character.
He held that there was moral and public justification
for its publication, and clearly there are circumstances
in which a political leader has the right to call the peo-
ple to his defence against groups or interests which
present private ultimatums. In this instance, nothing
but the letter itself could have disclosed the actual situa-
tion. But, ordinarily, Laurier was very scrupulous and
no one could more resolutely retain what he did not
choose to reveal.

It is doubtful if there ever was exact accord between
Laurier and Chamberlain. The one was as resolute as
the other and each had a vitally different conception of
the Imperial relation. Laurier regarded free trade
within the Empire as impracticable and impossible.
Nor was there complete agreement between the two
when Chamberlain became an advocate of tariff reform
and Imperial preferences. It is true that when Laurier
desired to have the food duties imposed during the war
in South Africa retained against foreign countries and
remitted in favour of the Dominions, he would have
had Chamberlain's support; but they were repealed
during Chamberlain's absence in South Africa. When
this was refused he finally abandoned effort to obtain
preferential treatment of Canadian products in British
markets. But there was irritation over the refusal and
even serious thought of actual withdrawal or substantial
modification of the Canadian preference in favour of
British manufactures.

Mr. Chamberlain's proposal to establish a consulta-
tive Imperial Council, Laurier opposed and defeated.



He was reluctant to send contingents to South Africa
and submitted at last only to a manifestation of public
feeling which he could not safely resist. He was
embarrassed by the attitude of Mr. Tarte and disturbed
by the vehement counsel of Mr. Bourassa. As editor of
The Globe, I was in a difficult position. I told Laurier
that he would either send troops or go out of office, but
gave a rash pledge that The Globe would not suggest
the despatch of contingents in advance of the decision
of the Cabinet. A few days before war was declared
Laurier had to go to Chicago and he insisted that I
should go along. In the party also were Mr. L. O.
David and Mr. Raymond Prefontaine, of Montreal.
For three days we discussed the Imperial obligation of
Canada and the possible political consequences of a
decision against sending contingents in all its phases, if
not with unanimity, at least with good temper and com-
plete candour. I shall not forget the wise discretion of
Mr. David and his grave concern that nothing should
develop to affect Laurier's position or disturb the rela-
tions between Canada and Great Britain. It is fair to
explain that Sir Wilfrid contended the war in South
Africa, if war there should be, would be a petty tribal
conflict in which the aid of the Dominions would not be
required, and that over and over again he declared he
would put all the resources of Canada at the service of
the Mother Country in any great war for the security
and integrity of the Empire. When we reached Lon-
don on the homeward journey we learned that the South
African Republics had precipitated the conflict. Laur-
ier had not believed that war was inevitable and he was
greatly comforted by assurances received at Chicago,
through British sources, that the Republics would sub-



mit to the demands of Great Britain or the conditions
would be so modified as to avert hostilities and ensure a
settlement by negotiation. During the journey between
London and Toronto he was very sober and silent. He
recognized that the Canadian Government must reach
an immediate decision, but he would not admit that the
fact of war necessarily involved Canada in the conflict.
When we parted at Toronto, I urged that as soon as
he reached Ottawa he should announce that the Gov-
ernment would send troops to South Africa. But he
was still reluctant, unconvinced, and rebellious. Next
day, however, I received this despatch: "Am sending
contingents. Will be in Toronto in the morning. Wil-
frid Laurier." When we met again he frankly ad-
mitted that public feeling in the English Provinces was
too strong to be opposed and that under all the circum-
stances the Government could not afford to challenge
the sentiment of the country and withhold Canada from
a struggle in which the other Dominions would be en-
gaged. He explained that there would be no serious
division in the Cabinet, but he doubted if the Liberal
representatives from Quebec could be united in support
of the action of the Government. Unfortunately there
was no such unanimity of feeling in Quebec as existed
in Ontario, and probably his influence among the
French people would be sorely tested. Over the deci-
sion of the Government Mr. Bourassa resigned his seat
in Parliament and was re-elected. But the intimate
personal and political relation which had existed be-
tween Laurier and Bourassa never was restored. The
war in South Africa produced the Nationalist move-
ment. The seeds of Nationalism lay long in the ground,
the growth was reluctant, the harvest ripened slowly.



But at last Bourassa gathered many sheaves in Quebec
from the sowing which began when his counsel was
rejected and Laurier sanctioned the organization of
contingents for South Africa. I think I never doubted
that Laurier's ultimate decision would be in favour of
contingents. For that among other reasons The Globe
said nothing to embarrass the Government or to excite
public feeling.

The Globe's first deliverance in support of contin-
gents was not written in the office. One day Mr. Justice
Street offered a letter for publication. He explained
with much courtesy and equal hesitation that The
Globe's position was detached and indefinite and that
doubtless there were legitimate political considerations
behind its discretion and reticence. As a judge he was
not clear that he should speak in his own name, but he
had written a letter which would not compromise the
paper and which he would like to have published with-
out his signature. When I had read the letter I inti-
mated that if he did not object I would make a few
minor changes and print it as an editorial. He was
agreeable and grateful. There was judicial caution in
the statement which The Globe required at the moment
and it is doubtful if Mr. Justice Street would have been
censured even if he had written over his signature.

In the general election of 1900, rash utterances by
Mr. Tarte were exploited with deadly effect by the Con-
servative Opposition. There is no doubt that Tarte
was opposed to the organization of contingents for
South Africa and believed that his position would be
sustained by the Cabinet. In this confidence he made
statements which were singularly inconvenient and em-
barrassing in the English Provinces. He explained




that he had gone no farther than to insist that troops
should not be sent out of the country without the direct
authority of Parliament. But in a political contest
there is no reverence for a qualification. Tarte was
gibbeted in every Conservative journal and from every
Conservative platform. For the time he displaced Mr.
Sifton as "the master of the Administration," and a very
fervour of passion was excited in the country against the
contumacious and aggressive French Minister. There
was much sheet lightning in the display, but even sheet
lightning is dangerous when it is associated with racial
feeling and Imperial patriotism. Tarte was the issue,
and the jawbone which he wielded too freely slaugh-
tered many Liberal candidates. Eight or ten days
before polling Laurier was in Toronto, and naturally
there was anxious consideration of the political outlook.
At a conference which I attended, the leader was
assured that Ontario would give a majority of at least
twenty for the Government. I alone insisted, despite
the angry protests of the optimists, that the majority
against the Government would be twenty. I gave my
reasons, of which Tarte was the chief, and Laurier
agreed that my forecast would probably be justified by
the result. The returns gave the Opposition a majority
of twenty-two in Ontario.

The defeat of Laurier in Ontario in 1900 had long
consequences. No doubt he had hesitated to involve
Canada in the war in South Africa, but he had yielded
to public feeling, had imposed his decision upon Que-
bec, had alienated cherished associates, had frankly con-
fessed his reluctance to involve Canada in a British
quarrel, and had defended the British position and the
final intervention of Canada with vigour and eloquence.



But despite the British fiscal preference and the action
of the Government in relation to South Africa, despite
recognition of Imperial sentiment and despite disre-
gard of the protests of elements in Quebec, he sustained
a decisive defeat in the chief English Province of the
Confederation. He coveted the goodwill and the con-
fidence of Ontario. He had doubted if a French
Roman Catholic could lead a national party. In any
evidence that this was a misinterpretation of the Pro-
testant majority, he rejoiced. He believed in 1900 that
he deserved a greater measure of support from Ontario
than he received. Thenceforth he turned to his own
Province and his own people. He never wooed
Ontario again. It may be that he never was willing to
lose Quebec. He would often insist that at any cost he
must have the confidence of his own Province. There
is reason to think that Bourassa became a spectre in his
pathway. He often said that if Bourassa had not
separated himself from the Liberal party and had cul-
tivated a national outlook he would have been his
natural and inevitable successor. But from 1900 he saw
Bourassa as an ever-present menace, against which he
believed he could not rely upon Ontario.

No one who knew Laurier could believe that
he was an Imperialist. Economically he was a con-
tinentalist and politically he was an autonomist. At
Imperial Conferences he resisted all proposals leading
towards federation of the Empire or even involving

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Online LibraryJohn Stephen WillisonReminiscences, political and personal → online text (page 21 of 25)