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Title: Laurier: A Study in Canadian Politics
Author: Dafoe, J. W. (John Wesley), 1866-1944
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Copyright, Canada, 1922 by Thomas Allen

Printed in Canada



The four articles which make up this volume were originally published
in successive issues of the Monthly Book Review of the Manitoba Free
Press and are herewith assembled in book form in response to what
appears to be a somewhat general request that they be made available
 in a more permanent form.

J. W. D.
October 13 1922.





THE life story of Laurier by Oscar D. Skelton is the official
biography of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Official biographies of public men
have their uses; they supply material for the definitive biography
which in the case of a great man is not likely to be written by one
who knew him in the flesh. An English public man, who was also a
novelist and poet, wrote:

 "Ne'er of the living can the living judge,
 Too blind the affection or too fresh the grudge."

The limitation is equally true in the case of one like Sir Wilfrid
Laurier who, though dead, will be a factor of moment in our politics
for at least another generation. Professor Skelton's book is
interesting and valuable, but not conclusive. The first volume is a
political history of Canada from the sixties until 1896, with
Laurier in the setting at first inconspicuously but growing to
greatness and leadership. For the fifteen years of premiership the
biographer is concerned lest Sir Wilfrid should not get the fullest
credit for whatever was achieved; while in dealing with the period
after 1911, constituting the anti-climax of Laurier's career, Mr.
Skelton is avowedly the alert and eager partisan, bound to find his
hero right and all those who disagreed with him wrong. Sir Wilfrid
Laurier is described in the preface as "the finest and simplest
gentleman, the noblest and most unselfish man it has ever been my
good fortune to know;" and the work is faithfully devoted to the
elucidation of this theme. Men may fail to be heroes to their valets
but they are more successful with their biographers. The final
appraisement of Sir Wilfrid, to be written perhaps fifty years hence
by some tolerant and impartial historian, will probably not be an
echo of Prof. Skelton's judgment. It will perhaps put Sir Wilfrid
higher than Prof. Skelton does and yet not quite so high; an abler
man but one not quite so preternaturally good; a man who had
affinities with Macchiavelli as well as with Sir Galahad.

The Laurier of the first volume is an appealing, engaging and most
attractive personality. There was about his earlier career something
romantic and compelling. In almost one rush he passed from the
comparative obscurity of a new member in 1874 to the leadership of
the French Liberals  in 1877; and then he suffered a decline which
seemed to mark him as one of those political shooting stars which
blaze in the firmament for a season and then go black; like Felix
Geoffrion who, though saluted by Laurier in 1874 as the coming
leader, never made any impress upon his times. A political accident,
fortunate for him, opened the gates again to a career; and he set
his foot upon a road which took him very far.

The writer made acquaintance with Laurier in the Dominion session of
1884. He was then in his forty-third year; but in the judgment of
many his career was over. His interest in politics was, apparently,
of the slightest. He was deskmate to Blake, who carried on a
tremendous campaign that session against the government's C. P. R.
proposals. Laurier's political activities consisted chiefly of being
an acting secretary of sorts to the Liberal leader. He kept his
references in order; handed him Hansards and blue-books in turn;
summoned the pages to clear away the impedimenta and to keep the
glass of water replenished--little services which it was clear he
was glad to do for one who engaged his ardent affection and
admiration. There were memories in the house of Laurier's eloquence;
but memories only. During this session he was almost silent. The
tall, courtly figure was a familiar sight in the chamber and in the
library--particularly in the library, where he could be found every
day ensconced in some congenial alcove; but the golden voice was
silent. It was known that his friends were concerned about his


The "accident" which restored Laurier to public life and opened up
for him an extraordinary career was the Riel rebellion of 1885. In
the session of 1885, the rebellion being then in progress, he was
heard from to some purpose on the subject of the ill treatment of
the Saskatchewan half-breeds by the Dominion government. The
execution of Riel in the following November changed the whole course
of Canadian politics. It pulled the foundations from under the
Conservative party by destroying the position of supremacy which it
had held for a generation in the most Conservative of provinces and
condemned it to a slow decline to the ruin of to-day; and it
profoundly affected the Liberal party, giving it a new orientation
and producing the leader who was to make it the dominating force in
Canadian politics. These things were not realized at the time, but
they are clear enough in retrospect. Party policy, party discipline,
party philosophy are all determined by the way the constituent
elements of the party combine; and the shifting from the Conservative
to the Liberal party of the political weight of Quebec, not as the
result of any profound change of conviction but under the influence
of a powerful racial emotion, was bound to register itself in time
in the party outlook and morale. The current of the older tradition
ran strong for some time, but within the space of about twenty years
the party was pretty thoroughly transformed. The Liberal party of
to-day with its complete dependence upon the solid support it gets
in Quebec is the ultimate result of the forces which came into play
as the result of the hanging of Riel.

After the lapse of so many years there is no need for lack of candor
in discussing the events of 1885. To put it plainly Riel's fate
turned almost entirely upon political considerations. Which was the
less dangerous course,--to reprieve him or let him hang? The issue
was canvassed back and forth by the distracted ministry up to the
day before that fixed for the execution when a decision was reached
to let the law take its course. The feeling in Quebec in support of
the commutation was so intense and overwhelming that it was accepted
as a matter of course that Riel would be reprieved; and the news of
the contrary decision was to them, as Professor Skelton says,
"unbelievable." The actual announcement of the hanging was a match
to a powder magazine. That night there were mobs on the streets of
Montreal and Sir John Macdonald was burned in effigy in Dominion
square. On the following Sunday forty thousand people swarmed around
the hustings on Champ de Mars and heard the government denounced in
every conceivable term of verbal violence by speakers of every tinge
of political belief. This outpouring of a common indignation with
its obliteration of all the usual lines of demarcation was the
result of the "wounding of the national self-esteem" by the flouting
of the demand for leniency, as it was put by La Minerve. Mercier put
it still more strongly when he declared that "the murder of Riel
was a declaration of war upon French Canadian influence in
Confederation." A binding cement for this union of elements
ordinarily at war was sought for in the creation of the "parti
national" which a year later captured the provincial Conservative
citadel at Quebec and turned it over to Honore Mercier. This violent
racial movement raged unchecked in the provincial arena, but in the
federal field it was held in leash by Laurier. That he saw the
possibilities of the situation is not to be doubted. He took part in
the demonstration on Champ de Mars and in his speech 'made a
declaration--"Had I been born on the banks of the Saskatchewan I
myself would have shouldered a musket"--which riveted nation-wide
attention upon him. Laurier followed this by his impassioned apology
for the halfbreeds and their leader in the House of Commons, of
which deliverance Thomas White, of the assailed ministry, justly
said: "It was the finest parliamentary speech ever pronounced in the
parliament of Canada since Confederation." In the debate on the
execution of Riel all the orators of parliament took part. It was
the occasion for one of Blake's greatest efforts. Sir John Thompson,
in his reply to Blake, revealed himself to parliament and the
country as one worthy of crossing swords with the great Liberal
tribune. But they and all the other "big guns" of the Commons were
thrown into complete eclipse by Laurier's performance. It is easy to
recall after the lapse of thirty-six years the extraordinary
impression which that speech made upon the great audience which
heard it--a crowded House of Commons and the public galleries packed
to the roof.

In the early winter of 1886-7 Laurier went boldly into Ontario
where, addressing great audiences in Toronto, London and other
points, he defended his position and preferred his indictment
against the government. This was Laurier's first introduction to
Ontario, under circumstances which, while actually threatening, were
in reality auspicious. It was at once an exhibition of moral and
physical courage and a manifestation of Laurier's remarkable
qualities as a public speaker. Within a few months Laurier passed
from the comparative obscurity to which he had condemned himself by
his apparent indifference to politics to a position in public life
where he divided public attention and interest with Edward Blake and
Sir John Macdonald. When a few months later Blake, in a rare fit of
the sulks, retired to his tent, refusing to play any longer with
people who did not appreciate his abilities, Laurier succeeded to
the leadership--apparently upon the nomination of Blake, actually at
the imperious call of those inescapable forces and interests which
men call Destiny.


Laurier, then in his 46th year, became leader of the Liberal party
in June, 1887. It was supposedly a tentative experimental choice;
but the leadership thus begun ended only with his death in February,
1919, nearly thirty-two years later. Laurier was a French Canadian
of the ninth generation. His first Canadian ancestor, Augustin
Hebert, was one of the little band of soldier colonists who, under
the leadership of Maisonneuve founded Montreal in 1641. Hebert's
granddaughter married a soldier of the regiment Carignan-Salieres,
Francois Cotineau dit Champlaurier. The Heberts were from Normandy,
Cotineau from Savoy. From this merging of northern and southern
French strains the Canadian family of Laurier resulted; this name
was first assumed by the grandson of the soldier ancestor. The
record of the first thirty years of Wilfrid Laurier's life was
indistinguishable from that of scores of other French-Canadian
professional men. Born in the country (St. Lin, Nov. 20, 1841) of
parents in moderate circumstances; educated at one of the numerous
little country colleges; a student at law in Montreal; a young and
struggling lawyer, interested in politics and addicted upon occasion
to political journalism.--French-Canadians by the hundreds have
travelled that road. A fortunate combination of circumstances took
him out of the struggle for a place at the Montreal bar and gave
him a practice in the country combined with the editorship of a
Liberal weekly, a position which made him at once a figure of some
local prominence. Laurier's personal charm and obvious capacity for
politics marked him at once for local leadership. At the age of 30
he was sent to the Quebec legislature as representative of the
constituency of Drummond and Arthabaska; and three years later he
went to Ottawa. The rapid retirement of the Rouge leaders, Dorion
and Fournier to the bench and Letellier to the lieutenant-governorship
of Quebec, opened the way for early promotion, and in 1877
he entered the cabinet of Alex. Mackenzie and assumed at the
same time the leadership of the French Liberals. Defeated in
Drummond-Arthabaska upon seeking re-election he was taken to its
heart by Quebec East and continued to represent that constituency
for an unbroken period of forty years. He went out of office with
Mackenzie in 1878, and thereafter his career which had begun so
promisingly dwindled almost to extinction until the events already
noted called him back to the lists and opened for him the doors of

When Wilfrid Laurier went to Montreal in 1861 he began the study of
law in the office of Rodolphe Laflamme, a leading figure in the
Rouge political group; and he joined L'Institut Canadien already far
advanced in the struggle with the church which was later to result
in open warfare. Those two acts revealed his political affiliations
and fixed the environment in which he was to move during the plastic
twenties. Ten years had passed since a group of ardent young men,
infected with the principles and enthusiasm of 1848, of which
Papineau returning from exile in Paris was the apostle, had stormed
the constituencies of Lower Canada and had appeared in the
parliament of Canada as a radical, free-thinking, ultra-Democratic
party, bearing proudly the badge of "Rouge"; and the passage of time
was beginning to temper their views with a tinge of sobriety. The
church, however, had them all in her black books and Bishop Bourget,
that incomparable zealot and bigot, was determined to destroy them
politically and spiritually, to whip them into submission. The
struggle raged chiefly in the sixties about L'Institut Canadien,
frowned upon by the church because it had books in its library which
were banned by the Index and because it afforded a free forum for
discussion. When Confederation cut the legislative connection
between Upper and Lower Canada the church felt itself free to
proceed to extremes in the Catholic province of Quebec and embarked
upon that campaign of political proscription which ultimately
reached a point where even the Rome of Pius IX. felt it necessary to

In this great battle for political and intellectual freedom the
young Laurier played his part manfully. He boldly joined L'Institut
Canadien, though it lay under the shadow of Bishop Bourget's
minatory pastoral; and became an active member and officer. He was
one of a committee which tried unavailingly to effect an
understanding with Bishop Bourget. When he left Montreal in 1866 he
was first vice-president of the Institute. His native caution and
prudence and his natural bent towards moderation and accommodation
enabled him to play a great and growing, though non-spectacular,
part in the struggle against the church's pretensions. As his
authority grew in the party he discouraged the excesses in theory
and speech which invited the Episcopal thunders; even in his
earliest days his radicalism was of a decidedly Whiggish type and
his political color was several shades milder than the fiery red of
Papineau, Dorion and Laflamme. Under his guidance the Rouge party
was to be transformed in outlook, mentality and convictions into
something very different indeed; but this was still far in the
future. But towards the church's pretensions to control the
political convictions of its adherents he presented an unyielding
front. On the eve of his assumption of the leadership of the French
Liberals he discussed at Quebec, June 1877, the question of the
political relations between church and state and the rights of the
individual in one of his most notable addresses. In this he
vindicated, with eloquence and courage, the right of the individual
to be both Catholic and Liberal, and challenged the policy of
clerical intimidation which had made the leaders of the church
nothing but the tools and chore-boys of Hector Langevin, the Tory
leader in the province. It may rightly be assumed that it was
something more than a coincidence that not long after the delivery
of this speech, Rome put a bit in the mouth of the champing Quebec
ecclesiastics. This remained Laurier's most solid achievement up to
the time when he was called to the leadership of the Dominion
Liberal party.


Laurier's accession to leadership caused doubt and heart-burnings
among the leaders of Ontario Liberalism. Still under the influence
of the Geo. Brown tradition of suspicion of Quebec they felt uneasy
at the transfer of the sceptre to Laurier, French by inheritance,
Catholic in religion, with a political experience derived from
dealing with the feelings, ambitions and prejudices of a province
which was to them an unknown world. Part of the doubt arose from
misconception of the qualities of Laurier. As a hard-bitten, time-worn
party fighter, with an experience going back to pre-confederation
days, said to the writer: "Laurier will never make a leader; he has
not enough of the devil in him." This meant, in the brisk terminology
of to-day, that he could not deliver the rough stuff. This doubter
and his fellows had yet to learn that the flashing rapier in the
hands of the swordsman makes a completer and far less messy job than
the bludgeon; and that there is in politics room for the delicate
art of jiu-jitsu. Further, the Ontario mind was under the sway of
that singular misconception, so common to Britishers, that a
Frenchman by temperament is gay, romantic, inconsequent, with few
reserves of will and perseverance. Whereas the good French mind is
about the coolest, clearest, least emotional instrument of the kind
that there is. The courtesy, grace, charm, literary and artistic
ability that go with it are merely accessories; they are the
feathers on the arrow that help it in its flight from the twanging
bow-cord to the bull's-eye. Laurier's mind was typically French with
something also Italianate about it, an inheritance perhaps from the
long-dead Savoyard ancestor who brought the name to this continent.
Later when Laurier had proved his quality and held firmly in his
hands the reins of power, the fatuous Ontario Liberal explained him
as that phenomenon, a man of pure French ancestry who was
spiritually an Englishman--this conclusion being drawn from the fact
that upon occasion the names of Charles James Fox and Gladstone came
trippingly from his tongue. The new relationship between the
Liberals and Laurier was entered upon with obvious hesitation on the
part of many of the former and by apparent diffidence by the latter.
It may be that the conditional acceptance and the proffered
resignation at call were tactical movements really intended by
Laurier to buttress his position as leader, as most assuredly his
frequent suggestions of a readiness or intention to retire during
the last few years of his leadership were. But, whatever the
uncertainties of the moment, they soon passed. Laurier at once
showed capacities which the Liberals had never before known in a
leader. The long story of Liberal sterility and ineffectiveness from
the middle of the last century to almost its close is the story of
the political incapacity of its successive leaders, a demonstration
of the unfitness of men with the emotional equipment of the
pamphleteer, crusader and agitator for the difficult business of
party management. The party sensed almost immediately the difference
in the quality of the new leadership; and liked it. Laurier's powers
of personal charm completed the "consolidation of his position," and
by the early nineties the Presbyterian Grits of Ontario were
swearing by him. When Blake, after two or three years of nursing his
wounds in retirement, began to think it was time to resume the
business of leading the Liberals, he found everywhere invisible
barriers blocking his return. Laurier was, he found, a different
proposition from Mackenzie; and there was nothing for it but to
return to his tent and take farewell of his constituents in that
tale of lamentations, the West Durham letter. The new regime, the
new leadership, did not bring results at once. The party experienced
a succession of unexpected and unforeseen misfortunes that almost
made Laurier superstitious. "Tell me," he wrote to his friend Henri
Beaugrand, in August, 1891, "whether there is not some fatality
pursuing our party." In the election of 1891 not even the
theatricality of Sir John Macdonald's last appeal nor the untrue
claim by the government that it was about, itself, to secure a
reciprocal trade arrangement with Washington, could have robbed the
Liberals of a triumph which seemed certain; it was the opportune
revelation, through the stealing of proofs from a printing office,
that Edward Farrer, one of the Globe editors, favored political
union with the United States, that gave victory into the hands of
the Conservatives. But their relatively narrow majority would not
have kept them in office a year in view of the death of Sir John A.
Macdonald in June, 1891, and the stunning blows given the government
by the "scandal session" of 1891, had it not been for two disasters
which overtook the Liberals: The publication of Blake's letter and
the revelation of the rascalities of the Mercier regime. Perhaps of
the two blows, that delivered by Blake was the more disastrous. The
letter was the message of an oracle. It required an interpretation
which the oracle refused to supply; and in its absence the people
regarded it as implying a belief by Blake that annexation was the
logical sequel to the Liberal policy of unrestricted reciprocity.
The result was seen in the by-election campaign of 1892 when the
Liberals lost seat after seat in Ontario, and the government
majority mounted to figures which suggested that the party, despite
the loss of Sir John, was as strong as ever. The Tories were in the
seventh heaven of delight. With the Liberals broken, humiliated and
discouraged, and a young and vigorous pilot, in the person of Sir
John Thompson, at the helm, they saw a long and happy voyage before
them. Never were appearances more illusory, for the cloud was
already in the sky from which were to come storm, tempest and
ruinous over-throw.


The story of the Manitoba school question and the political struggle
which centred around it, as told by Prof. Skelton, is bald and
colorless; it gives little sense of the atmosphere of one of the
most electrical periods in our history. The sequelae of the Riel
agitation, with its stirring up of race feeling, included the Jesuit
Estates controversy in parliament, the Equal Rights movement in
Ontario, the attack upon the use of the French language in the
legislature of the Northwest Territories and the establishment of a
system of National schools in Manitoba through the repeal of the
existing school law, which had been modelled upon the Quebec law and
was intended to perpetuate the double-barrelled system in vogue in
that province. The issue created by the Manitoba legislation
projected itself at once into the federal field to the evident
consternation of the Dominion government. It parried the demand for
disallowance of the provincial statute by an engagement to defray
the cost of litigation challenging the validity of the law. When the
Privy Council, reversing the judgment of the Supreme Court, found
that the law was valid because it did not prejudicially affect
rights held prior to or at the time of union, the government was
faced with a demand that it intervene by virtue of the provisions in
the British North America act, which gave the Dominion parliament
the power to enact remedial educational legislation overriding
provincial enactments in certain circumstances. Again it took refuge
in the courts. The Supreme Court of Canada held that under the
circumstances the power to intervene did not exist; and the
government breathed easier. Again the Privy Council reversed the
judgment of the Supreme Court and held that because the Manitoba law
prejudicially affected educational privileges enjoyed by the
minority after union there was a right of intervention. The last
defence of the Dominion government against being forced to make a
decision was broken down; in the language of to-day, it was up
against it. And the man who might have saved the party by inducing
the bishops of the Catholic church to moderate their demands was
gone, for Sir John Thompson died in Windsor Castle in December,
1894, one month before the Privy Council handed down its fateful
decision. Sir John was a faithful son of the church, with an immense
influence with the clerical authorities; he was succeeded in the
premiership by Sir Mackenzie Bowell, ex-grand master of the Orange
Order. The bishops moved on Ottawa and demanded action.

There ensued a duel in tactics between the two parties, intensely
interesting in character and in its results surprising, at least for
some people. The parties to the struggle which now proceeded to
convulse Canada were the government of Manitoba, the author of the
law in question, the Roman Catholic hierarchy in their capacity of
guardians and champions of the Manitoba minority, and the two
Dominion political parties. The bishops were in deadly earnest in
attack; so was the Manitoba government in defence; but with the
others the interest was purely tactical. How best to set the sails
to catch the veering winds and blustering gusts to win the race, the
prize for which was the government of Canada? The Conservatives had
the right of initiative--did it give them the advantage? They
thought so; and so did most of the Liberal generals who were mostly
in a blue funk during the year 1895 in anticipation of the hole into
which the government was going to place them. But there was at least
one Liberal tactician who knew better.

The Conservatives decided upon a line of action which seemed to them
to have the maximum of advantage. They would go in for remedial
legislation. In the English provinces they would say that they did
this reluctantly as good, loyal, law-abiding citizens obeying the
order of the Queen delivered through the Privy Council. From their
experiences with the electors they had good reason to believe that
this buncombe would go down. But in Quebec they would pose as the
defenders of the oppressed, loyal co-operators with the bishops in
rebuking, subduing and chaining the Manitoba tyrants. Obviously they
would carry the province; if Laurier opposed their legislation they
would sweep the province and he would be left without a shred of the
particular support which was supposed to be his special contribution
to a Liberal victory. The calculation looked good to the
Conservatives; also to most of the Liberals. As one Liberal veteran
put it in 1895: "If we vote against remedial legislation we shall be
lost, hook, line and sinker." But there was one Liberal who thought

His name was J. Israel Tarte. Tarte was in office an impossibility;
power went to his head like strong wine and destroyed him. But he
was the man whose mind conceived, and whose will executed, the
Napoleonic stroke of tactics which crumpled up the Conservative army
in 1896 and put it in the hole which had been dug for the Liberals.
On the day in March, 1895, when the Dominion government issued its
truculent and imperious remedial order, Tarte said to the present
writer: "The government is in the den of lions; if only Greenway
will now shut the door." At that early day he saw with a clearness
of vision that was never afterwards clouded, the tactics that meant
victory: "Make the party policy suit the campaign in the other
provinces; leave Quebec to Laurier and me." He foresaw that the
issue in Quebec would not be made by the government nor by the
bishops; it would be whether the French-Canadians, whose imagination
and affections had already been captured by Laurier, would or would
not vote to put their great man in the chair of the prime minister
of Canada. All through the winter and spring of 1895 Tarte was
sinking test wells in Quebec public opinion with one uniform result.
The issue was Laurier. So the policy was formulated of marking time
until the government was irretrievably committed to remedial
legislation; then the Liberals as a solid body were to throw
themselves against it. So Laurier and the Liberal party retired
within the lines of Torres Vedras and bided their time.

But Tarte had no end of trouble in keeping the party to the path
marked out. The fainthearts of the other provinces could not keep
from their minds the haunting fear that the road they were marching
along led to a morass. They wanted a go-as-you please policy by
which each section of the party could make its own appeal to local
feeling. Laurier was never more indecisive than in the war councils
in which these questions of party policy were fought over. And with
good reason. His sympathy and his judgment were with Tarte but he
feared to declare himself too pronouncedly. The foundation stone of
Tarte's policy was a belief in the overwhelming potency of Laurier's
name in Quebec; Laurier was naturally somewhat reluctant to put his
own stock so high. He had not yet come to believe implicitly in his
star. Within forty-eight hours of the time when Laurier made his
speech moving the six months' hoist to the Remedial bill, a group of
Liberal sub-chiefs from the English provinces made a resolute
attempt to vary the policy determined upon. Their bright idea was
that Clarke Wallace, the seceding cabinet minister and Orange
leader, should move the six months' hoist; this would enable the
Liberals to divide, some voting for it and some against it. But the
bold idea won. With Laurier's speech of March 3, 1896, the death-blow
was given to the Conservative administration and the door to
office and power opened to the Liberals.

The campaign absolutely vindicated the tactical foresight of Tarte.
A good deal might be said about that campaign if space were
available. But one or two features of it may be noted. In the
English provinces great play was made with Father Lacombe's minatory
letter to Laurier, sent while the issue was trembling in the balance
in parliament: "If the government . . is beaten . . I inform you
with regret that the episcopacy, like one man, united with the
clergy, will rise to support those who may have fallen in defending
us." In his Reminiscences, Sir John Willison speculates as to how
this letter, so detrimental to the government in Ontario, got itself
published. Professor Skelton says boldly that it was "made public
through ecclesiastical channels." It would be interesting to know
his authority for this statement. The writer of this article says it
was published as the result of a calculated indiscretion by the
Liberal board of strategy. As it was through his agency that
publication of the letter was sought and secured, it will be agreed
that he speaks with knowledge. It does not, of course, follow that
Laurier was a party to its publication.

The campaign of 1896 was on both sides lively, violent and
unscrupulous. The Conservatives had two sets of arguments; and so
had the Liberals. Those of us who watched the campaign in Quebec at
close range know that not much was said there by the Liberals about
the high crime of coercing a province. Instead, stress was laid upon
the futility and inadequacy of the proposed remedial legislation;
upon the high probability that more could be got for the minority by
negotiation; upon the suggestion that, negotiation failing, remedial
legislation that would really accomplish something could still be
invoked. This argument, plus the magic of Laurier's personality and
Tarte's organizing genius, did the business. Futile the sniping of
the curés; vain the broadsides of the bishops; empty the thunders of
the church! Quebec went to the polls and voted for Laurier.
Elsewhere the government just about held its own despite the burden
of its remedial policy; but it was buried under the Quebec
avalanche. The Liberals took office sustained by the 33 majority
from the province which had once been the citadel of political

 "Now is the winter of our discontent
 Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
 And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
 In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
 Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
 Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
 Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings;
 Our dreadful marches to delightful measures."


WILFRID Laurier was Prime Minister of Canada from July 9, 1896, to
October 6, 1911, fifteen years and three months, which, for the
Dominion, is a record. Sir John Macdonald was Premier of the
Dominion of Canada for over nineteen years, but this covered two
terms separated by five years of Liberal rule.

The theory of government by party is that the two parties are
complementary instruments of government; by periodic interchanges of
position they keep the administration of the country efficient and
progressive. The complete acceptance of this view would imply a
readiness upon the part of a party growing stale to facilitate the
incoming of the required alternative administration, but no such
phenomenon in politics has ever been observed. Parties, in reality,
are organized states within the state. They have their own dynasties
and hierarchies; and their reason for existence is to clothe
themselves with the powers, functions and glory of the state which
they control. Their desire is for absolute and continuing control to
which they come to think they have a prescriptive right; and they
never leave office without a sense of outrage. There never yet was a
party ejected from office which did not feel pretty much as the
Stuarts did when they lost the throne of England; the incoming
administration is invariably regarded by them in the light of
usurpers. This was very much the case with the Conservatives after
1896; and the Liberals had the same feeling after 1911, that they
had been robbed, as they deemed, of their rightful heritage. Parties
are not, as their philosophers claim, servants of the state
co-operating in its service; their real desire is the mastery of the
state and the brooking of no opposition or rivalship. Nevertheless
the people by a sure instinct compel a change in administration
every now and then; but they move so slowly that a government well
entrenched in office can usually outstay its welcome by one term of
office. The Laurier administration covering a full period of fifteen
years illustrates the operation of this political tendency. The
government came in with the good wishes of the people and for nearly
ten years went on from strength to strength, carrying out an
extensive and well-considered domestic programme; then its strength
began to wane and its vigor to relax. Its last few years were given
up to a struggle against the inevitable fate that was visibly rising
like a tide; and the great stroke of reciprocity which was attempted
in 1911 was not nearly so much a belated attempt to give effect to a
party principle as it was a desperate expedient by an ageing
administration to stave off dissolution. The Laurier government died
in 1911, not so much from the assaults of its enemies as from
hardening of its arteries and from old age. Its hour had struck in
keeping with the law of political change. Upon any reasonable survey
of the circumstances it would be held that Laurier was fortunate
beyond most party leaders in his premiership--in its length, in the
measure of public confidence which he held over so long a period, in
the affection which he inspired in his immediate following, and for
the opportunities it gave him for putting his policies into

Viewed in retrospect most of the domestic occurrences of the Laurier
regime lose their importance as the years recede; it will owe its
place in Canadian political history to one or two achievements of
note. Laurier's chief claim to an enduring personal fame will rest
less upon his domestic performances than upon the contribution he
made towards the solution of the problem of imperial relations. The
examination of his record as a party leader in the prime minister's
chair can be postponed while consideration is given to the great
services he rendered the cause of imperial and international
Liberalism as Canada's spokesman in the series of imperial
conferences held during his premiership.

Laurier, up to the moment of his accession to the Liberal
leadership, had probably given little thought to the question of
Canada's relationship to the empire. Blake knew something about the
intricacies of the question. His Aurora speech showed that as early
as 1874 he was beginning to regard critically our status of
colonialism as something which could not last; and while he was
minister of justice in the Mackenzie ministration he won two notable
victories over the centralizing tendencies of the colonial office.
But Laurier had never been brought into touch with the issue; and
when, after assuming the Liberal leadership, he found it necessary
to deal with it, he spoke what was probably the belief latent in
most of the minds of his compatriots: acceptance of colonial status
with the theoretical belief that some time, so far distant as not to
be a matter of political concern, this status would give way to one
of independence. "The day is coming," he said in Montreal in 1890,
"when this country will have to take its place among the nations of
the earth. ... I want my country's independence to be reached
through the normal and regular progress of all the elements of its
populations toward the realization of a common aspiration." Looking
forward to the issues about which it would be necessary for him to
have policies, it is not probable that he put the question of
imperial relationships very high. Certainly he had no idea that it
would be in dealing with this matter that he would reveal his
qualities at their highest and lay the surest foundation for his

In 1890 Laurier, as we have seen, believed the Canadian future was
to be that of colonialism for an indefinite period and then
independence. In 1911, the year he left office, in a letter to a
friend he said: "We are making for a harbor which was not the harbor
I foresaw twenty-five years ago, but it is a good harbor. It will
not be the end. Exactly what the course will be I cannot tell, but I
think I know the general bearing and I am content." The change in
view indicated by these words is thus expounded by Professor
Skelton: "The conception of Canada's status which Sir Wilfrid
developed in his later years of office was that of a nation within
the empire." But between the two quoted declarations there lay
twenty-one years of time, fifteen years of prime ministership and
the experiences derived from attendance at four imperial conferences
in succession--another record set by Laurier not likely ever to be


Laurier's imperial policies were forged in the fire. He took to
London upon the occasion of each conference a fairly just
appreciation of what was politically achievable and what was not,
and there he was put to the test of refusing to be stampeded into
practicable courses. Professor Skelton records two enlightening
conversations with Laurier dealing with the difficulties in which
the colonial representatives in attendance at these gatherings found
themselves. Said Sir Wilfrid:

"One felt the incessant and unrelenting organization of an
imperialist campaign. We were looked upon, not so much as individual
men, but abstractly as colonial statesmen, to be impressed and
hobbled. The Englishman is as businesslike in his politics,
particularly his external politics, as in business, even if he
covers his purposefulness with an air of polite indifference. Once
convinced that the colonies were worth keeping, he bent to the work
of drawing them closer within the orbit of London with marvelous
skill and persistence. In this campaign, which no one could
appreciate until he had been in the thick of it, social pressure is
the subtlest and most effective force. In 1897 and 1902 it was Mr.
Chamberlain's personal insistence that was strongest, but in 1907
and after, society pressure was the chief force. It is hard to stand
up against the flattery of a gracious duchess. Weak men's heads are
turned in an evening, and there are few who can resist long. We were
dined and wined by royalty and aristocracy and plutocracy and always
the talk was of empire, empire, empire. I said to Deakin in 1907
that this was one reason why we could not have a parliament or
council in London; we can talk cabinet to cabinet, but cannot send
Canadians or Australians as permanent residents to London, to debate
and act on their own discretion."

Still more enlightening is this observation:

"Sir Joseph Ward was given prominence in 1911 through the exigencies
of imperialist politics. At each imperial conference some colonial
leader was put forward by the imperialists to champion their cause.
In 1897 it was obvious that they looked to me to act the bell-wether,
but I fear they were disappointed. In 1902 it was Seddon; in 1907,
Deakin; in 1911, Ward. He had not Deakin's ability or Seddon's
force. His London friends stuffed him for his conference speeches;
he came each day with a carefully typewritten speech, but when once
off that, he was at sea."

What was the intention of this "unrelenting imperialist campaign"?
It took many forms, wore many disguises, but in its secret purposes
it was unchangeable and unwearying. It was a conscious, determined
attempt to recover what Disraeli lamented that Great Britain had
thrown away. Twenty years after Disraeli had referred to the
colonies as "wretched millstones hung about our neck," he changed
his mind and in 1872 he made an address as to the proper relations
between the Mother Land and the colonies which is the very
corner-stone of imperialistic doctrine. His declaration was in these

"Self-government, in my opinion, when it was conceded, ought to have
been conceded as part of a great policy of imperial consolidation.
It ought to have been accompanied by an imperial tariff; by
securities for the people of England for the enjoyment of the
unappropriated lands which belonged to the sovereign as their
trustee; and by a military code which should have precisely defined
the means, and the responsibilities, by which the colonies should be
defended, and by which, if necessary, this country should call for
aid from the colonies themselves. It ought, further, to have been
accompanied by the institution of some representative council in the
metropolis, which would have brought the colonies into constant and
continuous relations with the home government."

From the day Disraeli uttered these words down to this present time
there has been a persistent, continuous, well-financed and
resourceful movement looking towards the establishment in London of
some kind of a central governing body--parliament, council, cabinet,
call it what you will--which will determine the foreign policies of
the British Empire and command in their support the military and
naval potentialities of all the dominions and dependencies. It fell
to Laurier to hold the pass against this movement; and this he did
for fifteen years with patience, sagacity and imperturbable firmness
against the enraged and embattled imperialists, both of England and
Canada. Laurier, in the comment quoted above, said that in 1897 the
imperialists had looked to him to act as the bell-wether. They had
good reason to be hopeful about his usefulness to them. The imperial
preference just enacted by the Canadian parliament had been hailed
both in Canada and Great Britain as a great concession to
imperialistic sentiment, whereas it was in reality an exceedingly
astute stroke of domestic politics by which the government lowered
the tariff and at the same time spiked the guns of the high
protectionists. In 1897, when Laurier first went to England, the
imperial movement was at its crescent, synchronous with the great
welling up of sentiment and reverence called forth by the Diamond
Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Strachey has a penetrating word about the
strength which Queen Victoria's "final years of apotheosis" brought
to the imperialistic movement:

"The imperialist temper of the nation invested her office with a new
significance exactly harmonizing with her own inmost proclivities.
The English policy was in the main a common-sense structure; but
there was always a corner in it where common-sense could not enter.
. . . Naturally it was in the crown that the mysticism of the
English polity was concentrated--the crown with its venerable
antiquity, its sacred associations, its imposing spectacular array.
But, for nearly two centuries, common-sense had been predominant in
the great building and the little, unexplored, inexplicable corner
had attracted small attention. Then with the rise of imperialism
there was a change. For imperialism is a faith as well as a
business; as it grew the mysticism in English public life grew with
it and simultaneously a new importance began to attach to the crown.
The need for a symbol--a symbol of England's might, of England's
worth, of England's extraordinary mystical destiny--became felt more
urgently than before. The crown was the symbol and the crown rested
upon the head of Victoria."

To be translated from the humdrum life of Ottawa to a foremost place
in the vast pageantry of the Diamond Jubilee, there to be showered
with a wealth of tactful and complimentary personal attentions was
rather too much for Laurier. The oratorical possibilities of the
occasion took him into camp; and in a succession of speeches he gave
it as his view that the most entrancing future for Canada was one in
which she should be represented in the imperial parliament sitting
in Westminster. "It would be," he told the National Liberal club,
"the proudest moment of my life if I could see a Canadian of French
descent affirming the principles of freedom in the parliament of
Great Britain." This, of course, was nothing but the abandonment of
the orator to the rhetorical possibilities of the situation. Under
the impulse of these emotions he fell an easy victim to the
conspiracy of Lord Aberdeen and Lord Strathcona (of which he later
made complaint) by which the "democrat to the hilt" (as Laurier had
proclaimed himself but a short time earlier when he had been given
prematurely the knightly title at a public function) was transmuted
into Sir Wilfrid Laurier. It was, therefore, not without apparent
reason that the imperialists thought that they had captured for
their own this new romantic and appealing figure from the premier
British dominion. But when the imperial conference met, Mr.
Chamberlain, as colonial secretary, encountered not the orator
intent on captivating his audience, but the cool, cautious statesman
thinking of the folks at home. When the proposition for the
establishment of an imperial council was made by Mr. Chamberlain it
was deftly shelved by a declaration which stated that in the view of
the colonial prime ministers "the present political relations are
generally satisfactory under existing conditions." The wording is
suggestive of Laurier, though it is not known that he drafted the
statement. The skilful suspension of the issue without meeting it
was certainly the tactics with which he met and blocked, in
succeeding conferences, all attempts by the imperialists to give
practical effect to their doctrine.


The role which Laurier had to play in the successive conferences was
not one agreeable to his temperament. It gave no opening for his
talent. It supplied no opportunities for the making of the kind of
speeches at which he was a master. It kept him from the centre of
the stage, a position which Sir Wilfrid Laurier had no objection to
occupying. It obliged him to courses which, in the setting in which
he found himself, must at times have seemed ungracious, and this
must have been a trial to a nature so courtly and considerate. To
the successive proposals that came before the conference, togged out
in all the gorgeous garb of Imperialism, he was unable to offer
constructive alternatives; for his political sense warned him that
it was twenty years too soon to suggest propositions embodying his
conception of the true relations of the British nations to one
another. There was nothing to do but to block all suggestions of
organic change designed to strengthen the centralizing of power and
to await the development of a national spirit in Canada to the point
where it would afford backing for a movement in the opposite
direction. So Laurier had to look pleasant and keep on saying no. To
Mr. Chamberlain's proposal in 1897 "to create a great council of the
Empire," No. To the proposal made at the same time for a Canadian
money contribution to the navy, No. To these propositions and others
of like tenor urged in 1902 by Mr. Chamberlain with all his
persuasive masterfulness, No. No naval subsidy because it "would
entail an important departure from the principle of Colonial
self-government." No special military force in the Dominion
available for service overseas because it "derogated from the powers
of self-government." To the Pollock-Lyttleton suggestion of a
Council of advice or a permanent "secretariat" for an "Imperial
Council," No, because it "might eventually come to be regarded as an
encroachment upon the full measure of autonomous, legislative and
administrative power now enjoyed by all the self-governing powers."

Sir Wilfrid's policy was not, however, wholly negative, for he was
mainly responsible for the formal change in 1907 in the character of
the periodical conferences. The earlier conferences were between the
secretary of state and representatives of "the self-governing
colonies." They were colonial conferences in fact and in name--a
fact egregiously pictured to the eye in the famous photograph of the
conference of 1897, revealing Mr. Chamberlain complacently seated,
with 15 colonial representatives grouped about him in standing
postures. In 1907 the conference became one between governments
under the formal title of imperial conference, with the prime
minister the official chairman, as primus inter pares. It was the
first exemplification of the new theory of equality.

The change of government in Great Britain in 1905 must have brought
to Sir Wilfrid a profound sense of relief; it was no longer
necessary to rest upon his armor night and day. Not that the
Imperialist drive ceased but it no longer found its starting point
and rallying place in the Colonial office. The centralists operated
from without, looking about for someone to put forward their ideas,
as in 1911 when they took possession of Sir Joseph Ward, New
Zealand's vain and ambitious Prime Minister, and induced him to
introduce their half-baked schemes into the Conference. He and they
were suppressed by universal consent, Sir Wilfrid simply lending a
hand. Sir Wilfrid's refusal at this conference to join Australia and
other Dominions in a demand that they be consulted by the British
government in matters of foreign policy seemed to many out of
harmony with the Imperial policies which he had been pursuing. Mr.
Asquith at this conference declared that Great Britain could not
share foreign policy with the Dominions; and Sir Wilfrid declared
that Canada did not want to share this responsibility with the
British government. Seemingly Sir Wilfrid thus accepted, despite his
repeated claim that Canada was a nation, a subordinate relation to
Great Britain in the field of foreign relations which is the real
test of nationhood. In fact, however, this was the crowning
manifestation of his wariness and far-sightedness. He realized in
1911 what is only now beginning to be understood by public men who
succeeded to his high office, that a method of consultation
obviously defective and carrying with it in reality no suspensory or
veto power, involves by indirection the adoption of that very
centralizing system which it had been his purpose to block. If, Sir
Wilfrid said, Dominions gave advice they must be prepared to back it
with all their strength; yet "we have taken the position in Canada
that we do not think we are bound to take part in every war." He saw
in 1911 as clearly as Lloyd George did in 1921 (as witness the
latter's statement to the House of Commons in that year on the Irish
treaty) that the policy of consultation gave the Dominions a shadowy
and unreal power; but imposed upon them a responsibility, serious
and inescapable. He thus felt himself obliged to discourage the
procedure suggested by Premier Fisher of Australia, even though, to
the superficial observer, this involved him in the contradiction of,
at the same time, exalting and depreciating the status of his


What conception was there in Laurier's mind as to the right future
for Canada? He revealed it pretty clearly on several occasions;
notably in 1908 in a tercentenary address at Quebec in the presence
of the present King, when he said: "We are reaching the day when our
parliament will claim co-equal rights with the British parliament
and when the only ties binding us together will be a common flag and
a common crown." He was equally explicit two years later when,
addressing the Ontario club in Toronto, he said: "We are under the
suzerainty of the King of England. We are his loyal subjects. We bow
the knee to him. But the King of England has no more rights over us
than are allowed him by our own Canadian parliament. If this is not
a nation, what then is a nation?" Laurier looked forward to the
complete enfranchisement of Canada as a nation under the British
Crown, with a status of complete equality with Great Britain in the
British family. A keen-witted member of the Imperial Conference of
1911, Sir John G. Findlay, Attorney-General for New Zealand, saw the
reality behind the anomalous position which Sir Wilfrid held. "I
recognized," he says, "that Canadian nationalism is beginning to
resent even the appearance--the constitutional forms--of a
sub-ordination to the Mother country." "And," he added, revealing
the clarity of his understanding, "this is not a desire for
separation." But it was not in London that the question of Imperial
relationships presented its most thorny aspect. Laurier could
maintain there a stand-pat, blocking attitude with no more
disagreeable consequences than perhaps a little social chilliness,
the symbolical "gracious duchess" showing a touch of hauteur and
disappointment. It was in the reactions of the issue upon Canadian
politics that Laurier met with his real difficulties. He could not,
by tactics of procrastination or evasion, keep the question out
of the domestic field; the era of abject, passive and unthinking
colonialism was beginning to pass; and the spirit of nationalism was
stirring the sluggish waters of Canadian politics. Sir Wilfrid had
to face the issue and make the best of it. He handled the question
with consummate adroitness and judgment; but ultimately its
complexities baffled him and the Imperialists who wanted everything
done for the Empire and the so-called "Nationalists" of Quebec, who
wanted nothing done, joined forces against him.


It was the Imperialists in the old country and in Canada who gave
the issue no rest; they believed, apparently with good reason, that
a little urgency was all that was needed to make Canada the very
forefront of the drive for the consolidation of the Empire. The
English-speaking Canadians were traditionally and aggressively
British. The basic population in the English provinces was United
Empire Loyalist, which absorbed and colored all later accretions
from the Motherland--an immigration which in its earlier stages was
also largely militarist following the reduction of the army
establishment upon the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars. It was
inspired with a traditional hostility to the American republic. The
hereditary devotion to the British Crown, of which Victoria to the
passing generations appeared to be the permanent and unchanging
personification, threw into eclipse the corresponding sentiment in
England. English-speaking Canadians were more British than the
British; they were more loyal than the Queen. One can get an
admirable idea of the state of Ontario feeling in the addresses at
the various U.E. L. celebrations in the year 1884; in both its
resentments and its affections there was something childish and

Imperialism, on its sentimental side, was a glorification of the
British race; it was a foreshadowing of the happy time when this
governing and triumphant people would give the world the blessing of
the pax Britannica. "We are not yet," said Ruskin in his inaugural
address, "dissolute in temper but still have the firmness to govern
and the grace to obey." In this address he preached that if England
was not to perish, "she must found colonies as fast and far as she
is able," while for the residents of these colonies "their chief
virtue is to be fidelity to their country (i.e. England) and their
first aim is to be to advance the power of England by land and sea."
Seely got rid of all problems of relationship and of status by
expanding England to take in all the colonies; the British Empire
was to become a single great state on the model of the United
States. "Here, too," he said, "is a great homogeneous people, one
in blood, language, religion and laws, but dispersed over a
boundless space." Such a conception was vastly agreeable to the more
aggressive and assertive among the English Canadians. It kindled
their imagination; from being colonists of no account in the
backwash of the world's affairs, they became integrally a part of a
great Imperial world-wide movement of expansion and domination; were
they not of what Chamberlain called "that proud, persistent,
self-asserting and resolute stock which is infallibly destined to be
the predominating force in the future history and civilization of
the world"? Moreover, it gave them a sense of their special
importance here in Canada where the population was not "homogeneous
in blood, language and religion;" it was for them, they felt, to
direct policy and to control events; to take charge and see that
developments were in keeping with suggestions from headquarters

What these Canadian parties to the great Imperial drive thought of
Sir Wilfrid's dilatory, evasive and blocking tactics is not a matter
of surmise. Upon this point they did not practise the fine art of
reticence; and their angry expostulations are to be found in the
pages of Hansard, in the editorial pages of the Conservative press,
in the political literature of the time, in heavy condemnatory
articles which found publication through various mediums. Thus Sir
George Foster could see in Laurier's statements to the Ontario club
nothing but "foolish, even mischievous talk." "If," he added, "they
are merely for the sake of rhetorical adornment they are but
foolish. If, however, they are studied and serious they are
revolutionary." And to the extent that they could they made trouble
for Sir Wilfrid, in which labor of love they were energetically
assisted, upon occasion, by high officials from the other side of
the Atlantic. Laurier had five years of more or less continuous
struggle with Lord Minto, a combination of country squire and heavy
dragoon, who was sent to Canada as governor-general in 1898 to
forward by every means in his power the Chamberlain policies. He
busied himself at once and persistently in trying to induce the
Canadian government to commit itself formally to the policy of
supplying Canadian troops for Imperial wars. In the spring of 1899
he wanted an assurance which would justify the war office in
"reckoning officially" upon Canadian troops "in case of war with a
European power;" in July he urged an offer of troops in the event of
war in South Africa which "would be a proof that the component parts
of the Empire are prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder to support
Imperial interests." With the outbreak of the South African war,
Lord Minto regarded himself less as Governor-General than as
Imperial commissioner charged with the vague and shadowy powers
which go with that office; and Sir Wilfrid had, in consequence, to
instruct him on more than one occasion that Canada was still a
self-governing country and not a military satrapy. Professor Skelton
does nothing more than barely allude to these troubles; the story,
which would be most interesting and suggestive, will perhaps never
be told. But some idea of what was afoot can be drawn from the fact
that at a public gathering in Montreal in the month of November,
1899, Lord Minto was advised and instructed by an active politician
and leading lawyer that under his powers as the representative of
Imperial authority he could order the Canadian militia to South
Africa without reference to the Canadian parliament!

Associated with Lord Minto in the applying of Imperial pressure to
the Canadian government was General Hutton, commander of the
Canadian forces. In those days this position was always filled by an
Imperial officer who was given leave of absence in order that he
might fill the position. He was thus a Canadian official, paid out
of the Canadian treasury and subject to the Canadian government; but
few of the occupants of the office were capable of appreciating this
fact. They regarded themselves as representatives of the war office
with large but undefined powers in the exercise of which they
frequently found themselves in conflict with the Canadian
government. General Hutton's interfering activities were so
objectionable that he was got rid of by a face-saving expedient; but
four years later a successor to his office, Lord Dundonald, was
formally dismissed by order-in-council for his "unpardonable
indiscretion" in publicly criticizing the acting minister of
militia. Lord Minto, unofficially advised by military officers and
opposition politicians, resisted signing the order-in-council until
it was made clear to him that the alternative would be a general
election in which the issue would be his refusal. The incident was
conclusive as to the necessity of having a Canadian at the head of
the Canadian forces--a change which was subsequently effected.

These controversies and conflicts of opinion became factors in
Canadian politics. The Conservatives sought in the general elections
of 1900 to make an issue out of the government's hesitation in
taking part in the South African war in advance of the meeting of
parliament; this, plus injudicious and provocative speeches by the
incalculable Mr. Tarte and the general indictment of Laurier as
lukewarm towards the cause of a "united Empire" weakened the
Liberals in Ontario; but this loss was easily off-set by gains
elsewhere. Again in 1904 the Dundonald issue was effective only in
Ontario which, in keeping with what appears to be an instinctive
political process, was beginning to consolidate itself as a
make-weight against the overwhelming predominance of Liberalism in
Quebec. In the 1908 elections the Imperial question was almost
quiescent in the English provinces; but it was beginning to emerge
in a different guise and with aspects distinctly threatening to
Laurier in his own province.


Laurier in resisting the Chamberlain push knew that even English-Canada,
long somnolent under a colonial regime, was not in the mood
to accept the radical innovations that were being planned in
Whitehall; and he knew, still better, that his own people would be
against the programme to a man. The colonialism of the French-Canadians
was immitigable and ingrained. They had secured from the
British parliament in 1774 special immunities and privileges as the
result of Sir Guy Carleton's hallucination that given these the
French-Canadian habitant would assist the British authorities in
chastising the rebellious American colonists into submission. These
privileges, continued and embodied in the act of confederation, were
enjoyed by the French-Canadians--as they believed--by virtue of
Imperial guarantees; they held that they were safe in their
enjoyment only While there was in the last analysis British control
over Canada and while the final judgment on Canadian laws was passed
by British courts. But their colonialism, unlike that of the
English-Canadians, was of a quality that could never be transmuted into
Imperialism. The racial mysticism of that movement repelled them;
and still more they were deterred by the cost and dangers of
Imperialistic adventure. It was for England, in return for their
whole-hearted acceptance of colonial subordination, to protect them
internally against any courses by the English-Canadians which they
might choose to regard as an infringement of their privileged
position and externally against all danger of invasion or conquest.

If Sir Wilfrid had been called upon to choose only between these two
camps he could perhaps have made a choice which would not have been
ultimately a political liability. But the situation was not so
simple. There was a third factor which, alike by inclination and
political necessity, Sir Wilfrid had to take into account. This was
Canadian nationalism, in contrast with the racial nationalism of
which Mr. Bourassa was the apostle. The backing upon which Sir
Wilfrid relied at first to resist the military and naval policies of
the Imperialists was the timidity and reluctances of colonialism;
but he knew that this was at best a temporary expedient. To urgings
that Canada should assist in the upkeep of the Imperial navy by
money contributions and should also maintain special militia forces
available for service in Imperial wars overseas, Sir Wilfrid felt
that some more plausible reply than a brusque refusal was necessary;
and he met them with the contention that Canada must create military
and naval forces for her own defence which would be available for
the wars of the Empire at the discretion of the Canadian parliament.
These views put forward almost tentatively in 1902 ultimately bore
fruit in definite policies of national defence. Thus the answer to
demand for naval contribution, to which policy all the other
Dominions had subscribed, was to declare that Canada should have her
own navy; and this took form, after numerous skirmishes with
admiralty opinion, which was scandalized at the suggestion, in the
Naval Service Bill of 1910.

This course, which was thus urged upon Sir Wilfrid by events, earned
him the displeasure of both the Imperialists and the Little
Canadians. To the former Laurier's policy seemed little short of
treasonable, particularly his insistence that while Canada was at
war when England was at war the extent, if any, of Canada's
participation in such war must be determined solely by the Canadian
parliament. His own countrymen on the other hand viewed with
disquietude these first halting steps along the road of national
preparedness; might it not lead by easy gradations to that "vortex
of militarism" against which Sir Wilfrid had voiced an eloquent
warning? Where there is opinion capable of being exploited against a
government the exploiter soon appears. In Quebec, Monk,
Conservative, and the Nationalist, Bourassa, who entering Parliament
as a follower of Laurier had developed a strong antipathy to him,
were indefatigable in alarming the habitant by interpreting to him
the secret purposes of the naval service bill. It was nothing, they
claimed, but an Imperialistic device by which the Canadian youth
would be dragged from his peaceful fireside to become cannon fodder
in the Empire's wars. Meanwhile in the English provinces, the
government's policy was fiercely attacked as inadequate and verging
upon disloyalty by the Imperialists. The Conservative opposition,
after one virtuous interlude in 1909 when they showed a fleeting
desire to take a non-political and national view of this matter of
defence, could not resist the temptation to profit by the campaign
against the government's policy; and they joined shrilly in the
derisive cry of "tin pot navy." These onslaughts from opposite camps
were a factor in the elections of 1911; especially in Quebec where
twenty-seven constituencies (against eleven in 1908) elected
opponents of Laurier.


Sir Wilfrid fell; but his Imperial policies lived. During the
campaign the old country Imperialists had been very busy from
Rudyard Kipling down--or up--in lending aid to the forces fighting
the Liberal government; and its defeat was the occasion for much
rejoicing among them. Mr. A. Bonar Law, M. P., doubtless voiced
their views when he predicted under the incoming regime, "a real
advance towards the organic union of the Empire." All these hopes,
like many which preceded them, were short-lived; for Sir Robert
Borden, once he got his bearings, took over the Laurier policies and
widened them. In that significant fact the clue to these policies is
found. They were not personal to Laurier, owing their coolness
towards perfervid Chamberlainism to his lack of English blood as his
critics held; they were in fact national policies dictated by the
necessities of the times. To the casual student of the development
of Imperial relations for the decade following 1896, it might seem
that the Liberal conception of an Empire evolving steadily into a
league of free nations was only saved from destruction by the
fortunate circumstance that Sir Wilfrid Laurier was during those
years the representative of Canada at successive Imperial
conferences; but this would be, perhaps, to put his services too
high. Canada's public men have never failed her in the critical
times in her history when attempts were made through ignorance or
design to turn her aside from the high road to national sovereignty;
as witness Gait in 1859, Blake in his long duel with Lord Carnarvon,
Sir John A. Macdonald in 1885, when he resisted the premature demand
for a Canadian contingent for service in the Soudan, Tupper in the
early nineties when his vigorous resistance to the proposal that
Canada should pay tribute for protection had something to do with
the demise of the Imperial Federation League. Any man fit to be
premier of Canada would have taken pretty much the position that Sir
Wilfrid did. This does not in the least detract from the credit due
Laurier. The task was his and he discharged it with tact, ability,
patience and courage. For his services in holding their future open
for them every British Dominion owes the memory of Laurier a statue
in its parliament square.


There have been prime ministers of Canada casually thrown up by the
tide of events and as casually re-engulfed; but Wilfrid Laurier was
not one of them. There may have been something accidental in his
rise to leadership, but his capture of the premiership was a solid
political achievement. The victory of June 23, 1896, crowned with
triumph the daring strategy of the campaign. But popular opinion
regarded the victory as a gift of the gods. The wheel of fortune
spinning from the hands of fate had thrown into the high office of
the premiership one about whose qualifications there was doubt even
in the secret minds of many of his supporters. He was a man of
charming manners and of gracious personality. His carriage on the
platform and the grace and finish of his speaking had fascinated the
public imagination. But what likelihood was there that these
qualities would enable him to deal adequately with the harsh
realities, the stubborn problems which he must face as premier? Most
unlikely, it was generally agreed. The Conservatives, though
profoundly chagrined at the trick fate had played upon them, looked
forward with pleasurable expectation to the revenge that would be
theirs when Laurier, political dilettante and amateur, took up the
burden that had been too great for their own Ulysses. They foresaw a
Laurier regime which for futility and brevity would take its place
in history with the ill-starred prime ministership of Mackenzie. The
average Liberal felt that the government, which would get its
driving force and executive power from someone else--identity not
yet revealed--would have in Laurier a most attractive and genial
figurehead. These illusions long persisted, though there was little
excuse for them on election night and still less a month later when
the Laurier cabinet was in being.

To be a Rouge and to be in Montreal during the three weeks following
the glorious 23rd of June was the height of felicity. After nearly
50 years of proscription and impotence in their own province, they
were triumphant and dominant. Moreover, since they had supplied the
majority which made possible the taking of office by the Liberals,
they would be triumphant and dominant as well in the Dominion field.
Among the election occurrences which they regarded as specially
providential was the defeat of Tarte in Beauharnois. If he had been
elected it might have been necessary for Laurier to do something for
him, but now that he had fallen upon the glacis of the impregnable
fortress he had elected to assail, who were they to repine over the
doings of fate? "The Moor has done his work; the Moor can go!"
Moreover, had he not been for long an inveterate Bleu? Had he not
actually been the organizer of Bleu victory when Laurier experienced
his memorable defeat in Drummond-Arthabaska in 1877? His defeat made
it possible to have a simon-pure Rouge contingent from Quebec.

While they were thus indulging in roseate day-dreams the actual
business of cabinetmaking was going forward, with Tarte at Laurier's
right hand as chief adviser from Quebec. The writer has a very clear
recollection of a long conversation which he had at that time with
Tarte. Much of it was given up to picturesque and forthright
denunciation by Tarte of the means by which he had been defeated in
Beauharnois. The mill-owners at Valleyfield, he said, had lined up
their operatives and had given them the option of voting for
Bergeron or getting out. The worth to a country of an industrial
system which makes political serfs of its workmen was vigorously
challenged in language which had little resemblance to the harangues
which led to Tarte's undoing six years later. From this he went on
to speak of Laurier's qualities and the amazing ignorance of them
shown even by his intimates of his own race. There had been much
speculation in Montreal as to who should be the new high
commissioner for Canada in London. Sir Donald A. Smith, who had been
appointed in the last weeks of Conservative rule, would be, it was
assumed, dismissed. Tarte scouted the idea that Smith would be
disturbed. Laurier was not that kind of a man. He would not dismiss
Smith; he would make friends with him. Sir Donald was a man of
affairs, and so was Laurier; they would co-operate with one another.
"These people do not understand Laurier; he has a governing mind; he
wants to do things; he has plans; he will walk the great way of life
with anyone of good intention who will join him." With much more to
the same effect. To Tarte, who was his intimate, Laurier at this
moment did not appear as one overcome with his destiny and drifting
with the tide, but as the resolute captain of the ship, who knew
where he wanted to go, had a fairly clear idea as to how to get
there, and also knew whom he wanted with him on the voyage. Later on
Tarte forgot about this.


There was verification of Tarte's estimate in the job of cabinet-making
turned out by Laurier in July. In building the government the
lines of least resistance were not followed. A dozen men who deemed
themselves sure of cabinet rank found themselves overlooked; five of
fifteen portfolios went to men imported from provincial arenas
without Dominion parliamentary experience. Laurier knew the kind of
government he wanted and he provided himself with such a government
by the direct method of getting the colleagues he desired wherever
he could find them. No doubt he found plenty of employment for his
sunny ways in placating his disappointed colleagues. In time there
were consolation prizes for all, for this one a judgeship, for that
one a lieutenant-governorship, for the next a life seat in the
senate; the phalanx of fighting second-raters who had done valuable
work in opposition, reinforcing and buttressing the work of the
front benches disappeared gradually from parliament. And with those
he chose he too had his way, as witness the side-tracking of Sir
Richard Cartwright to the dignified but at the time relatively
unimportant department of trade and commerce. Between Sir Richard
and the Canadian manufacturers there was a blood feud. It was not
Sir Wilfrid's intention to make the feud his own or even to agree to
it being carried on by Sir Richard. He took for minister of finance,
W. S. Fielding, who justified his choice by successfully steering
the budget bark between Scylla and Charybdis for fourteen years in
succession before the whirlpool finally sucked him down. Where
Laurier went outside his following for colleagues he had equally
definite ends to serve.

The care with which Laurier chose his colleagues, and his
indifference to personal appeal, should have been proof sufficient
to the public that he was a prime minister who looked forward and
planned for the future. And the plan? Why to stay in power for the
longest possible period of time. It is as natural for a government
to want to stay in power as it is for a man to want to live; nor is
there in this anything discreditable. A prime minister is sure that
he desires to retain power in order that he may serve the country as
no rival could conceivably serve it; and even if the desire fades
and is replaced by a lively appreciation of the personal
satisfactions which can be served by the office, no real prime
minister notices the transformation. The ego and the country soon
become interblended in his mind. A prime minister under the party
system as we have had it in Canada is of necessity an egotist and
autocrat. If he comes to office without these characteristics his
environment equips him with them as surely as a diet of royal jelly
transforms a worker into a queen bee.

Laurier saw that an efficient government, harmonious in its policies
and ably led, would afford a contrast to the preceding
administration that must forcibly impress the Canadian people. He,
therefore created a government of all the talents. Anxious for
discreet handling of the difficult fiscal problem he turned to Nova
Scotia for W. S. Fielding. Foreseeing the possibility of grave
constitutional problems arising he put the portfolio of justice into
the hands of the wisest and most venerable of Liberals, Sir Oliver
Mowat. Recognizing that a backward and stagnant west meant failure
for his administration he placed the department of interior, which
had become a veritable circumlocution office, under the direction of
the ablest and most aggressive of western Liberal public men,
Clifford Sifton. The time was to come when other values were to hold
in relation to cabinet appointments; but in the beginning efficiency
was the test, at least in intention. It was thus Laurier proposed in
part to build foundations under his house that it might endure. And
to insure that virtue should not lack its reward he proceeded to
buttress the edifice by a second line of support.

In the general election of 1896 the Liberal strategy had been to
give the party managers in the English provinces an apparent choice
of the best weapons, but with all these advantages the results
showed that they had barely held their own. The majority came from
Quebec where Laurier had apparently to face the heaviest odds. The
natural inference was not lost upon Laurier. If he was to remain in
power he must look to Quebec for his majority. A majority was
necessary and he must get it where it was to be had. This decision
was at first probably purely political. The consequences were not
fully foreseen, that to get this support a price would have to be
paid--by the Liberals of the other provinces. Still less was it
foreseen that the overwhelming support of his own people would
become not only politically essential to Laurier but a moral
necessity as well--something which in time he felt, by an imperious
demand of the spirit, that he must hold even though this allegiance
became not a political asset but a liability. Gradually, perhaps
insensibly at first, in opposition possibly to his judgment,
certainly to his public professions oft repeated, he came to regard
it as necessary to so shape party policy as always to command the
approval of French-Canadian public opinion. Sir Wilfrid lived to
see, as the culmination of 20 years of this policy, the French and
the English-Canadians more sharply divided than they had been for 80
years. Such is the capacity of the human mind for self-deception
that he could see in this divergence nothing but the proof that his
life's work had been destroyed by envious and designing men.


Quebec in turning Laurierite did not turn Liberal. This was the
factor hidden from the public eye that governed the future. The
Laurier sweep of Quebec in 1896 was the result of a combination of
the Bleu and Rouge elements. The old dominant French-Canadian party
had been made up of Bleus and Castors--factions bitterly divided by
differences of temperament, of outlook and belief, and still more by
desperate personal feuds between the leaders. When the coming of
responsible government broke up the solidarity of the French-Canadians
they separated into three groups, the controlling factor in each
case being religious belief. The Castors were ultra-clerical
and ultramontane; the Bleus inherited the tradition of Gallicanism;
the Rouges imported and adapted the anti-clericalism of European
Liberals. Various influences--the brilliance and resourcefulness of
Cartier's leadership and antipathy to Rouge extremism among them--kept
Bleu and Castor in an uneasy alliance. This alliance began to
disintegrate when Laurier rose to the command of the Liberals. There
was a steady drift from the Bleu to the Liberal camp--by this time
the old definition of "Rouge" was under taboo; and in 1896 the Bleus
moved over almost in a body. This was not an altogether instinctive
and voluntary movement; it was suggested, inspired, successfully
shepherded and safely delivered.

Tarte's confidence that Laurier could win Quebec was not based
wholly upon faith in the power of Laurier's personal appeal. He was
himself a Bleu leader brought into accidental relations with the
Liberals. His breach with the Conservatives began as one of the
unending Castor-Bleu feuds. His knowledge of the McGreevy-Connolly
frauds gave him the power, as he thought, to blow the Castor chief,
Sir Hector Langevin--a cold, selfish, greedy, domineering, rather
stupid man--into thinnest air, thus opening the road to the
leadership of the French-Conservatives to his friend and leader, the
brilliant, unscrupulous and ambitious Chapleau. He over-estimated
his power. The whole strength of the government at Ottawa was at
once concentrated in keeping the lid on that smouldering cauldron of
stench and rottenness, the system of practical politics of that day.
The Conservative chiefs tried to suppress Tarte and he refused to be
suppressed--there was not a drop of coward's blood in his veins.
Then they set to work to destroy him. He sought a refuge and he
found it--in parliament, to which he was elected in 1891 as an
Independent as the result of an arrangement with Laurier. As he used
to say, it was a case of parliament or jail for him.

Inevitably, in following up his charges in parliament, Tarte was
thrown into more and more intimate relations with the Liberal
leaders. He knew that for him there was no Conservative forgiveness;
as he was wont to say: "I have spoiled the soup for too many." It
was not long before Sir John Thompson could congratulate Laurier, in
one of the sharpest sayings parliament ever heard, upon having among
his lieutenants--"the black Tarte and the yellow Martin." For ten
years he remained Laurier's chief lieutenant in Quebec, but he never
in any sense of the word became a Liberal, though in 1902, just
before he was thrown from the battlements, he busied himself in
reading lifelong Liberals out of the party. Chapleau, who was
Tarte's confidant and ally, though he was also a member of the
Dominion government, became Lieutenant-governor of Quebec and
retired to Spencer Wood, but not to forget politics among its
shades. When the peculiar developments of the Dominion campaign of
1896 made it evident that Conservative victory in Quebec under the
virtual leadership of the bishops meant the permanent domination of
the Castors, the whole Bleu influence was thrown to the Liberals.

Professor Skelton's life of Laurier does not take us much behind the
scenes. It is in the main a record of political events, with
comments upon Laurier's relations to them. Laurier's letters, mostly
to unnamed correspondents, are of slight interest, but to this there
are a few notable exceptions. There are letters between Laurier,
Tarte and Chapleau of the greatest political value. They make clear
to a demonstration, what shrewd political observers of that day
surmised, that there was a definite political understanding between
these three men. This explains the composition of the Quebec
delegation in the Laurier government. Apart from Laurier there was
in it no representative of French Catholic Liberalism, unless the
purely nominal honor of minister without portfolio given to C. A.
Geoffrion is to be taken as giving this representation. C. A. did
not put the honor very high. "I am," he said, "the mat before the
door." Tarte, a Quebecker and a Bleu, became Montreal's
representative at Ottawa. Disappointment among the Liberals led
first to rage and then to rage plus fear as Tarte with the magic
wand of the patronage and power of the public works department,
began to make over the party organization in the province. Open
rebellion under François Langelier broke out in December: "A
coalition with Chapleau," Langelier informed the public, "is under
way." But the rebellion died away. The Laurier influence was too
strong. Langelier was quite right in his statement. The coalition
movement at that time was far advanced. The letter from Chapleau to
Laurier, bearing date February 21, 1897, quoted by Professor
Skelton, was that of one political intimate to another. Take this
paragraph as an illustration: "The Castors in the battle of June
23rd lost their head and their tail; their teeth and claws are worn
down; even breath is failing for their cries and their movements and
I hope that before the date of the Queen's jubilee we shall be able
to say that this race of rodents is extinct and figures only in
catalogues of extinct species." The reference to the coming
extinction of the Castors had relation to the then pending
provincial elections as to which he made certain references to
political strokes which "I am preparing." Associated with this
Laurier-Tarte-Chapleau triumvirate was a fourth, C. A. Dansereau,
nominally postmaster of Montreal, actually the most restless
political intriguer in the province of Quebec. Dansereau had been
the brains of the old Senecal-Chapleau combination which had
dominated Quebec in the eighties. Just what Laurier thought of the
company he was now keeping was a matter of record for he had set it
forth in a famous article in L'Electeur in 1882 entitled "The Den of
Thieves," which led to L. A. Senecal, the Bleu "boss," prosecuting
him for criminal libel. Laurier stood his trial in Montreal, pleaded
justification, and after a hard fought battle won a virtual triumph
through a disagreement of the jury with ten of the jurymen favorable
to acquittal.


Little wonder that Francois Langelier, his brother Charles, and
other associates of Laurier in the lean years of proscription were
consumed with indignation that Laurier should pass them by to
associate with his former enemies. They did not realize the
political necessity that controlled Laurier's course. Laurier had
great need to hold his new allies for his position in Quebec for the
first year or so of office was precarious. The Manitoba school
question had still to be settled. Laurier was political realist
enough to know that he would have to take what he could get and this
he would have to dress up and present to the public as his own
child. He knew that the bishops, chagrined, humiliated, enraged by
their election experience, were only waiting for the announcement of
settlement to open war on him. It would then depend upon whether or
not they were more successful than in June in commanding the support
of their people. In Laurier's own words: "They will not pardon us
for their check of last summer; they want revenge at all costs."

The real fight, it was recognized, would be in Rome. Thither there
went within two months of the Liberals taking office, two emissaries
of the French Liberals, the parish priest of St. Lin, a lifelong,
personal and political friend of Laurier, and Chevalier Drolet, one
of the Canadian papal Zouaves, who had rallied to the defence of the
Holy City twenty-six years before. There followed swiftly two more
distinguished intermediaries, Charles Fitzpatrick, solicitor-general
of Canada, and Charles Russell, of London, son of Lord Russell of
Killowen. Backing them up was a petition to the pope signed by
Laurier and forty-four members of parliament, protesting against the
political actions of the Canadian episcopate. Nor did the Canadian
hierarchy lack representation in Rome. While this conflict of
influence was in progress at Rome, the terms of the Manitoba school
settlement were made public in November, 1896. The settlement
embodied substantial concessions in fact, but Archbishop Langevin
and his fellow clerics at once fell upon it. Langevin denounced it
as a farce. To Cardinal Begin it appeared an "indefensible
abandonment of the best established, most sacred rights of the
Catholic minority." A regime of religious proscription was
inaugurated. Public men were subjected to intimidation; Liberal
newspapers were banned, among them L'Electeur, the chief organ of
the party. The bishops destroyed themselves by their violence. Rome
does not lightly quarrel with governments and prime ministers. By
March Mgr. Merry Del Val was in Canada as apostolic delegate; and
though care was taken to save the faces of the bishops, their
concerted assaults upon the government ceased. Laurier had never
again to face the embattled bishops, which is not the same thing as
saying that they ceased to take a hand in politics. As Professor
Skelton truly remarks: "The Archbishop of Montreal, Monseigneur Paul
Bruchesi, who kept in close touch with Wilfrid Laurier, soon proved
that sunny ways and personal pressure would go further than the
storms and thunderbolts of the doughty old warrior of Three Rivers."
With the bishops silenced, Laurier's foes in Quebec found the issue
valueless to them. Their political associates from other provinces,
after the disappointment of 1896, would not consent to a revival of
the question. One of the party leaders declared he would not touch
it with a forty-foot pole. Tupper formally erased it from the party
calendar. The question remained quiescent; but Laurier always
remained in fear of its re-emergence; and with cause. The
resentments it left went underground and later had a revival in the
passionate zeal with which the Quebec clergy embraced the faith of
nationalism as preached by Bourassa. In one respect the school
question and its settlement proved useful. It was the exhibit
unfailingly displayed to prove upon needed occasions that the charge
was quite untrue that in directing party policy Laurier was unduly
sensitive to Quebec sentiment. In effect it was said: "Laurier made
Quebec swallow in 1896; now it is your turn"--a formula which
finally became tedious through repetition.


The second issue which appeared for a moment to put Laurier's grip
on Quebec in peril was the South African war. Looking back
twenty-three years it is pretty clear that Laurier's position at the
outbreak of the war, that the Canadian parliament should be
consulted as to the sending of a contingent, was wholly reasonable.
Those were the days of heady Imperialism in the English provinces;
and, vigorously stirred up by Laurier's party foes for political
purposes, it struck out with a violence which threatened to bring
serious political consequences in its train. Tarte was credited with
having declared publicly in the Russell House rotunda: "Not a man
nor a cent for South Africa," which did not help matters. The storm
was so instant and threatening that Laurier and his colleagues bowed
before it. By order-in-council Canada authorized the sending of a
contingent. Other contingents followed, and Canada took part in the
war on terms of limited liability which were agreeable to both the
British and Canadian governments.

The South African war was most unpopular with the French-Canadians,
but the unpopularity did not extend to Laurier. They agreed in
theory with Bourassa but they recognized that Laurier had yielded to
force majeure. Indeed the very violence with which Laurier was
assailed in Ontario strengthened his hold in Quebec. It is not easy
for a proud people to stomach insults such as, for instance, the
remark in the Toronto News, that the English-Canadians would find
some way of "emancipating themselves from the dominance of an
inferior people whom peculiar circumstances had placed in authority
in the Dominion." The election of 1900 gave Laurier fifty-eight
supporters in the province of Quebec out of a total of sixty-five
seats. The Rouge-Bleu coalition had not come off officially,
Chapleau's death in 1898 having removed the necessity of formally
recognizing his services, but the coalition of Bleu and Rouge
elements had taken place; and it held so firmly that when some of
the architects of the fusion tried later to undo their work they
found this could not be done. Dansereau was the first to go. Mr.
Mulock, the postmaster-general, entirely oblivious of the fact that
Dansereau was one of the main wheels in the Quebec machine and
seeing in him only an entirely incapable postmaster, fired him in
1899 with as little hesitation as a section boss would show in
bouncing an incompetent navvy. Tarte and Laurier tried to patch up
the quarrel, but Dansereau preferred to return to journalism as
editor of an independent journal whose traditions were Conservative.
He was to be, five years later, one of the leaders in that curious
conspiracy, the MacKenzie-Mann-Berthiaume-La Presse deal--the details
of which as told by Professor Skelton read like a detective yarn--which
was turned into opera bouffe by Laurier's decisive and timely
interference. In 1902, Tarte, in Laurier's absence and in the belief
that he could not resume the premiership on account of illness,
attempted to seize the successorship by pre-emption, and was
promptly dismissed from office by Laurier. Tarte and Dansereau tried
to rally the Bleu forces against Laurier, but these were no longer
distinguishable from the Liberal hosts into which they had merged.
Their day was over and their power gone. Laurier reigned supreme.

These commitments and considerations furnished the background to the
drama of Laurier's premiership. Much that took place on the fore-stage
is only intelligible by taking a long vision of the whole setting.
There was nothing of assertiveness or truculence in this
steady movement by which Liberal policy and outlook was given a new
orientation, Quebec replacing Ontario as the determinant. Students
of politics can trace the changing influence through the fifteen
years of Liberal rule, in legislation, in appointments and in
administrative policies. One or two illustrations might be noted.


During the crisis of 1905 over the school provisions in the Autonomy
bills erecting Alberta and Saskatchewan into provinces, Walter
Scott, M.P., in a letter quoted by Professor Skelton, refers to the
"almost unpardonable bungling" which had brought the crisis about.
But Sir Wilfrid did not step into this difficulty by mischance. He
knew precisely what he was doing though he did not foresee the
consequences of his action because with all his experience and
sagacity he never could foretell how political developments would
react upon the English-Canadian mind. The educational provisions of
the autonomy bill were designed to remove the still lingering
resentment of Quebec over the settlement of the Manitoba school
question and to further this purpose Sir Wilfrid indulged in his
speech introducing these bills in that entirely gratuitous laudation
of separate schools which had on Ontario and western Canadian
opinion the enlivening effect of a match thrown into a powder
barrel. This incident revealed not only the tendency of Laurier's
policy but illustrated the tactics which he had developed for
achieving his ends in the face of opposition within the party. Upon
occasions of this kind he was addicted to confronting his associates
and followers with an accomplished fact, leaving no alternative to
submission but a palace rebellion which he felt confident no one
would attempt. By such methods he had already rounded several
dangerous corners, as for instance his committing Canada to submit
her case in the matter of the Alaska boundaries to a tribunal
without an umpire--though it was the clearly understood policy of
the Canadian government and the Canadian parliament to insist upon
an umpire; and he resorted again to a stroke of this character in
1905. Professor Skelton's story of the crisis is the official
version, but there is another version which happens to be more

Following the general election of 1904, the government decided to
deal without further delay with the matter of setting up the new
provinces. It was known that there was danger of revival of the
school question, for during the election campaign a Toronto
newspaper had sought to make this an issue, contending that the
delay in giving the provinces constitutions was due to the demand of
the Roman Catholic church that they should include a provision for
separate schools. The policy agreed upon by the government was to
continue in the provincial constitutions the precise rights enjoyed
by the minority under the territorial school ordinances of 1901.
There was a vigorous controversy in parliament as to whether the
autonomy bills in their original form kept faith with this
understanding. Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Mr. Fitzpatrick, minister of
justice, contended vehemently that they did. Clifford Sifton, who
was the western representative in the cabinet and the party most
directly interested, held that they did not. Mr. Sifton was absent
in the Southern States when the bill was drafted. He reached Ottawa
on his return the day after Sir Wilfrid had introduced the bills to
parliament. He at once resigned. Fielding, who had also been absent,
was credited with sharing to a considerable extent Sifton's view
that the bill introduced did not embody the policy agreed upon. The
resulting crisis put the government in jeopardy. A considerable
number of members associated themselves with Mr. Sifton and the
government was advised that their support for the measure could only
be secured if clauses were substituted for the provisions in the act
to which objection was taken. To make sure that there would be no
mistake that the substituted provisions should merely continue the
territorial law as it stood, they insisted upon drafting the
alternative clauses themselves. Sir Wilfrid, acutely conscious that
this constituted a challenge to his prestige and authority, used
every artifice and expedient at his command to induce the insurgents
either to accept the original clause or alternatives drafted by Mr.
Fitzpatrick; for the first time the tactical suggestion that
resignation would follow noncompliance was put forward. The
dissentient members stood to their guns; Sir Wilfrid yielded and the
measure thus amended commanded the vote of the entire party with one
Ontario dissentient.

The storm blew over but the wreckage remained. The episode did
Laurier harm in the English provinces. It predisposed the public
mind to suspicion and thus made possible the ne temere and Eucharist
congress agitations which were later factors in solidifying Ontario
against him. In Quebec it gave Mr. Bourassa, whose hostility to
Laurier was beginning to take an active form, an opportunity to
represent Laurier as the betrayer of French Catholic interests and
to put himself forward as their true champion. "Our friend,
Bourassa," wrote Sir Wilfrid to a friend in April, 1905, "has begun
in Quebec a campaign that may well cause us trouble." From this
moment the Nationalist movement grew apace until six years later it
looked as though Bourassa was destined to displace Laurier as the
accepted leader of the French Canadians. It was only the
developments of the war that restored Laurier to his position of
unchallenged supremacy.

In Manitoba also there were evidences of Sir Wilfrid's preoccupation
with the business of never getting himself out of touch with Quebec
public opinion. For years he sought by private and semi-public
negotiations to get the Winnipeg school board to come to a modus
vivendi with the church by which Catholic children would be
segregated in their own schools within the orbit of the public
school system, but failed, partly owing to the non possumus attitude
of Archbishop Langevin, who was not prepared to be deprived of a
grievance which enabled him to mix in Quebec and Manitoba politics.
The Liberal policy of accepting provincial electoral lists for
Dominion purposes resulted in the Manitoba lists being compiled
under conditions to which the Liberals of this province strongly
objected, and they fought for years to secure a right to final
revision under Dominion auspices. Twice they pressed their case with
such vigor that the government undertook to pass the requested
legislation but on both occasions resistance in the house by the
Conservatives led to the prompt withdrawal of the measure by Sir
Wilfrid. In both cases Manitoba Liberals knew quite well that the
difficulty was not the opposition of the Conservatives but the
opposition of Laurier. They were advised that Laurier was
apprehensive of the effect of the proposed legislation upon public
opinion in Quebec. He feared the criticism by his opponents that
while Laurier would not interfere with Manitoba when it was a matter
of the educational rights of the minority he was willing to
interfere when it was a matter of obliging his political friends.
There was something too in the charge that the delay in dealing with
the matter of the extension of the Manitoba boundaries arose from
the same feeling. To transfer the Northwest territories, where the
minority had certain constitutional rights in matters of education,
to Manitoba where the minority had none would be to put one more
weapon into the hands of Mr. Bourassa. The extension of Manitoba's
boundaries had to await a change in administration.


There is always a temptation to the biographer of a prime minister
to relate his hero to the events of his period as first cause and
controlling spirit--the god of the storm; whereas prime ministers,
like individuals, are the sports of destiny; things happen and they
have to make the best of them. The performances of the Laurier
government may be divided into two classes, those due to its own
initiative and those which were imposed by circumstances. The ratio
between the two classes changed steadily as the administration grew
in age. After the impetus born of the reforming zeal of opposition
and the natural and creditable desire to fulfil express engagements
dies away, the inclination of a government is not to invite trouble
by looking around for difficult tasks to do. "Those who govern,
having much business on their hands," says Benjamin Franklin, "do
not like to take the trouble to consider and carry into execution
new projects." This is a political law to which all governments
conform. Even the great reforming administration of Gladstone which
took office in 1868, had earned five years later the famous jest of
Disraeli: "The ministers remind me of one of those marine landscapes
not very unusual off the coast of South America; you behold a range
of extinct volcanoes; not a flame flickers upon a single pallid

Fifteen years of Liberal rule in Canada furnish a complete field for
the study of the party system under our system. In 1896 a party
stale in spirit, corrupt and inefficient, went out of office and was
replaced by a government which had been bred to virtue by eighteen
years of political penury. It entered upon its tasks with vigor,
ability and enthusiasm. It had its policies well defined and it set
briskly about carrying them out. A deft, shrewd modification of the
tariff helped to loosen the stream of commerce which after years of
constriction began again to flow freely. There was a courageous and
considered increase in expenditures for productive objects. A
constructive, vigorously executed immigration policy brought an ever
expanding volume of suitable settlers to Western Canada which in
turn fed the springs of national prosperity. This impulse lasted
through the first parliamentary term and largely through the second,
though by then disruptive tendencies were appearing. By its third
term the government was mainly an office-holding administration on
the defensive against an opposition of growing effectiveness. And
then in the fourth term there was an attempt at a rally before the
crash. The treatment of the tariff question, always a governing
factor in Canadian politics even when apparently not in play, is an
illustration of the government's progress towards stagnation. The
1897 tariff revision "could not," says Professor Skelton, "have been
bettered as a first preliminary step toward free trade."
"Unfortunately," he adds, "it proved to be the last step save for
the 1911 attempt to secure reciprocity." After 1897 Laurier's policy
was to discourage the revival of the tariff question. Tarte's
offence was partly that he did not realize that sleeping dogs should
be allowed to lie. "It is not good politics to try to force the hand
of the government," wrote Laurier to Tarte. And he added: "The
question of the tariff is in good shape if no one seeks to force the
issue." With Tarte's ejection there followed nearly eight years
during which real tariff discussion was taboo. Then under the
pressure of the rising western resentment against the tariff
burdens, the government turned to reciprocity as a means by which
they could placate the farmers without disturbing or alarming the
manufacturers. By what seemed extraordinary good luck the United
States president, Republican in politics, was by reason of domestic
political developments, in favor of a reciprocal trade agreement. It
seemed as though the Laurier government as by a miracle would renew
its youth and vigor; but the situation, temporarily favorable, was
so fumbled that it ended not in triumph but in defeat.

The disasters of the Laurier railway policy--or rather lack of
policy--must always weigh heavily against the undoubted achievements
of the Laurier regime. A period of marked national expansion gave
rise to all manner of railway ambitions and schemes, and Laurier
lacked the practical capacity, foresight and determination to fit
them into a general, well-thought-out, practicable scheme of
development. Again it was a case of letting the pressure of events
determine policy, in place of policy controlling events. He could
not deny the Grand Trunk's ambitions, but he obliged it to submit to
modifications demanded by political pressure which turned its
project, perhaps practicable in its original form, into a huge,
ill-thought-out transcontinental enterprise. Equally he could not hold
the ambitions of Mann and McKenzie in check. The advisability of a
merger of these rival railway groups was obvious at the time, but
Laurier let them each have their head, dividing government
assistance between them, with resulting ruin to both and bequeathing
to his successors a problem for which no solution has yet been found.


During the years of his premiership Laurier rose steadily in
personal power and in prestige. It is in keeping with the genius of
our party system that the leader who begins as the chosen chief of
his associates proceeds by stages, if he has the necessary
qualities, to a position of dominance; the republic is transformed
into an absolute monarchy. In the government of 1896 Laurier was
only primus inter pares; his associates were in the main
contemporary with him in point of years and public service. Their
places had been won by party recognition of their services and
abilities. In the government of 1911 Laurier was the veteran
commander of a company which he had himself recruited. Of his 1896
colleagues but few remained, and of these only Mr. Fielding had kept
his relative rank in the party hierarchy. All his remaining
colleagues had entered public life long subsequent to his accession
the Liberal leadership. Not one had been in parliament prior to
1896. Their entrance into public life, their steps in promotion,
their admittance to the government were all subject to his approval,
where they were not actually due to his will. To Laurier's authority
they yielded unquestioning obedience, and with it went a deep
affection inspired and made sure by the personal consideration and
kindliness that marked his relations with them. Under these
conditions, men of strong, individual views and ambitions, with
reforming temperaments and a desire to force issues, did not find
the road to the Privy Council open to them; different qualities held
the password.

In 1908 Sir Wilfrid, when a discerning electorate had deprived him
of a colleague whose political incapacity had been completely
demonstrated, became a party to a deal by which he re-entered
parliament. An old friend took the liberty of asking Sir Wilfrid why
he wanted this associate back in the cabinet, only to be told that
"So-and-So never made any trouble for me." At least twice in the last
four years of his regime Sir Wilfrid, conscious of the waning
energies of his party, took advice outside of his immediate circle
as to what should be done; on both occasions he rejected advice
tendered to him because this involved the inclusion in the cabinet
of personalities that might have disturbed the charmed serenity of
that circle. Sir Wilfrid preferred to have things as they were,
perhaps because his sense of reality warned him that, so far as the
duration of time during which he would hold office was concerned,
there probably would not be any great difference between a
government wholly agreeable to him and one reconstituted to meet the
demand of the younger and more vigorous elements in the party. In
1909, in a letter to a supporter who had lost the party nomination
for his constituency, he gave premonition of his own fate: "What has
happened to you in your county will happen to me before long in
Canada. Let us submit with good grace to the inevitable."

The inevitable end in the ordinary course of events would have been
the going on of the party until it died of dry rot and decay, as the
Liberals had already died in Ontario; but fortunately, both for the
party and for Laurier's subsequent fame--though it may not have
seemed so at the time--emergence of the reciprocity question gave
it an opportunity to fall on an issue which seemed to link up the
end of the regime with its heroic beginnings and to reinvest the
party with some of its lost glamor.


THE defeat of the Liberals in September, 1911, raised sharply the
question of the party's future and the leadership under which it
would face that future. Speaking at St. Jerome toward the close of
the campaign Sir Wilfrid had stated positively that if defeated he
would retire. This declaration of intention--no doubt at the moment
sincerely made--was designed to check the falling away from
Laurier's leadership in Quebec, which was becoming more noticeable
as election day drew near. But the appeal was ineffective.. The
effective opposition to Laurier in Quebec came not from Borden or
from Monk, the official leader of the French Conservatives, but from
Bourassa. Laurier and his lieutenants fought desperately, but in
vain, to break the strengthening hold of the younger man on the
sympathies of the French electors. In Quebec the custom of the joint
open air political meeting is still popular, and at such a concourse
in St. Hyacinthe, an old Liberal stronghold, Sir Wilfrid's
colleagues, Lemieux and Beland, met a notable defeat at the hands of
Bourassa--an incident which clearly revealed how the winds were
blowing. Bourassa, fanatically "nationalist" in his convictions and
free from any political necessity to consider the reactions
elsewhere of his doctrines, was outbidding Sir Wilfrid in the
latter's own field. Laurier received the news of the electoral
result in a hall in Quebec East, surrounded by the electors of the
constituency which had been faithful to him for 40 years. He
accepted the blow with the tranquil fortitude which was his most
notable personal characteristic; but the feature in the disaster
which must have made the greatest demand upon his stoicism was this
indication that his old surbordinate and one time friend
was--apparently--about to supplant him in the leadership of his own
people. The election figures showed that whereas Laurier had carried
49 seats in Quebec in 1896, 58 in 1900, 54 in 1904 and again in
1908, he had been successful in only 38 constituencies against 27
for the Conservatives and Nationalists combined. Laurier, at the
moment of his defeat, was within two months of entering upon his
70th year. He had been 40 years in public life; for 24 years leader
of his party; for 15 years prime minister. He had had a long and
distinguished career; and he had gone out of office upon an issue
which, with confidence, he counted upon time to vindicate. He had
long cherished a purpose to write a history of his times. The moment
was, therefore, opportune for retirement; and it must be assumed
that he gave some thought to the advisability or otherwise of living
up to his St. Jerome pledge. But neither his own inclination nor the
desire of his followers pointed to retirement; and the next session
of parliament found him in the seat he had occupied twenty years
before as leader of the opposition. The party demand for his
continuance in the leadership was virtually unanimous. There was
only one possible successor to Sir Wilfrid--Mr. Fielding. But he was
not in parliament. Also he was in disfavour as the general whose
defensive plan of campaign had ended in disaster. His name suggested
"Reciprocity"--a word the Liberals were quite willing, for the time
being, to forget. He was left to lie where he had fallen. For some
years he lived in political obscurity, and it was only the emergence
of the Unionist movement which made possible his re-entrance to
public life and his later career.


When Sir Wilfrid resumed the leadership after the formality of
tendering his resignation to the party caucus it meant, in fact,
that he intended to die in the saddle. Thereafter Sir Wilfrid talked
much about the inexpediency of continuing in the leadership, and
often used language foreshadowing his resignation--indeed the
letters quoted by Professor Skelton in the latter chapters of his
book abound in these intimations--but these came to be regarded by
those in the know as portents: implying an intention to insist upon
policies to which objections were likely to develop within the party.

Notwithstanding the severity of their defeat--they were in a
minority of 45 in the House--the Liberals in opposition showed a
good fighting front, and ere long hope revived. The Borden
government found itself in difficulties from the moment of taking
office--largely by reason of the tactics by which Laurier's
supremacy in Quebec had been undermined. The Nationalist chiefs
declined an invitation to enter the government, but they controlled
the Quebec appointments to the cabinet, and thus assumed a
quasi-responsibility for the new government's policy. The result was
disastrous to them; for the Borden government, subject to the
influences that had enabled it to sweep Ontario, could not concern
itself with the preservation of Bourassa's fortunes. The extension
of the Manitoba boundaries was a blow to the Nationalists; they
failed in their efforts to preserve the educational rights of the
minority in the added territory. Laurier had evaded this issue;
Borden could not evade it, and by its settlement Bourassa was
damaged. Still more disastrous to the Nationalist cause was the
naval policy which Mr. Borden submitted to Parliament in the session
of 1912-1913. There was in its presentation an ingenious attempt to
reconcile the irreconcilable which deceived nobody. The contribution
of the three largest dreadnoughts that could be built was to satisfy
the Conservatives; the Nationalists were expected to be placated by
the assurance that this contribution was merely to meet an
emergency, leaving over for later consideration the question of a
permanent naval policy. But all the circumstances attending the
setting out of the policy--the report of the admiralty, the letters
of Mr. Churchill, the speeches by which it was supported with their
insistence upon the need for common naval and foreign policies--made
it only too clear that it marked the abandonment of the Canadian
naval policy which had been entered upon only four years before with
the consent of all parties and the acceptance in principle of the
Round Table view of the Imperial problem. Laurier challenged the
proposition whole-heartedly. Here was familiar fighting ground. From
the moment they joined battle with the government the Liberals found
their strength growing. They were indubitably on firm ground. They
were helped mightily by Mr. Churchill's attempted intervention in
which he belittled Canadian capacity in a manner worthy of Downing
street in its palmiest days. Mr. Churchill had the bright idea of
coming to Canada to take a hand personally in the controversy. A
Canadian-born member of the British House of Commons sounded out
various Canadians as to the nature of the reception Mr. Churchill
would receive. Mr. Churchill did not come--fortunately for the
government. The Liberals fought the proposition so furiously in the
Commons that the government had to introduce closure to secure its
passage through the commons, whereupon the Liberal majority in the
Senate threw it out. The Liberal policy was to challenge the
government to submit the issue to the people in a general election.
That within eighteen months from the date of their disastrous defeat
the Liberals should invite a second trial of strength spoke of
rapidly reviving confidence. The government ignored the challenge,
for very good reasons. In the sequel Laurier, as with all his
policies having to deal with Imperial questions, was amply
justified. The policy of Dominion navies was never again seriously
questioned in Canada; when admiralty officials, true to form,
challenged it in 1918 it was Sir Robert Borden who defended it, to
some purpose.

These developments were fatal to Quebec Nationalism as a distinct
political force under the direction of Mr. Bourassa. The ideas that
inspired it did not lapse. Nor did Mr. Bourassa, as apostle of these
ideas, lose his personal eminence. But the electors in sympathy with
these ideals began to develop views of their own as to the political
action required by the times. Their alliance with the Conservatives
had brought them no satisfaction. They had ejected the most eminent
living French-Canadian from the premiership to the very evident
injury of Quebec's influence in Confederation--that about
represented the sum of their achievements. The thought that they had
been on the wrong track began to grow in their minds. The conditions
making for the creation of the Quebec bloc were developing. The
disposition was to get together under a common leadership. It was
still a question as to whether, in the long run, that leader should
be Laurier or Bourassa; but all the conditions favored Laurier. For
one thing, he could command a large body of support outside of his
own province which it was quite beyond the power of Bourassa to
duplicate. The swing to Laurier was so marked that by 1914 the
confident prediction was made by good political judges that if there
were an election Laurier would carry 60 out of the 65 seats in
Quebec. Such a vote meant victory. Sir Wilfrid was slow in coming to
believe that an early reversal of the decision of 1911 was possible;
but finally found himself infected with the hopefulness of his
following. Hard times became a powerful ally of the Liberals and the
government suffered from the first shock of the impending railway
collapse. The course of the party lay clear before it; it was to see
that the conditions in Quebec remained favorable and to await, with
patience, the coming of an election which would reopen the doors to
office. But not too much patience, for the years were slipping past.
Laurier was in his 73rd year.


Such were the political conditions: a government in a position of
growing doubtfulness and a combative and confident opposition--when
Canada found herself plunged over night into the Great War. Under
the high emotion of this venture into the unknown politics vanished
for a brief moment from the land. If that moment could have been
seized for a sacred union of hearts dedicated to the great task of
carrying on the war how different would the whole future of Canada
have been! In the fires of war our sectional and racial intractibilities
might have been fused into an enduring alliance. But Canadian
statesmanship was not equal to the opportunity. For this
Sir Wilfrid has no accountability. There is no question of the
correctness and generosity of his attitude as revealed in the war
session of August, 1914. From a speech in the next session it might
be inferred that he would have gone farther than he did if overtures
had been made to him.

In Canada, as elsewhere, the war spelt opportunity for more than the
patriot and the hero. The schemer, resolute to make the war serve
his ends, appeared everywhere. From the morrow of those first days
of high exaltation the two currents ran side by side in Canada: the
clear tide of valor and self-sacrifice, the muddy stream of
cowardice and self-seeking. There was an influential element in the
dominant party which was determined to exploit the war to the limit
for political and personal interests. The war meant patronage; it
must be placed where it would do the most party good. It meant an
opportunity for artificial and perfectly safe distinction; this must
be employed for increasing the political availability of friends.
Political colonels began to adorn the landscape. It meant a corking
good issue upon which an election could be won; why not take
advantage of it? While the government officially was leading a
united people into action, these scheming political profiteers were
perfecting their plans for appealing to the people on the ground
that the government--a party government which had not invited any
measure of close co-operation from the opposition--must have a
mandate to carry on the war. There is a quite authentic story of a
leading Canadian being cheered up on a train journey by assurances
from a travelling companion, a friend holding high office, that
events were shaping for certain victory; until he learned that the
enemy about to be defeated was the "damn Grits." The battle of Ypres
in April, 1915, saved Canada from an ignoble general election on the
meanest of issues. Though some of the conspirators still pressed for
an election, it soon became apparent that the proposal was abhorrent
to public opinion. Canadians could not bring themselves to the point
of fighting one another while their sons and brothers were dying
side by side in the mud of Flanders.

The danger of a profound division of the Canadian people in war-time
passed; but irretrievable damage had been done to the cause of
national unity. In considering subsequent events these unhappy
developments of the first year of the war cannot be overlooked.
Party feeling among the Liberals had been held in leash with
difficulty; now it was running free again. The attitude of the party
towards the government was in effect: "You have tried to play
politics with the war; very well, you will find that this is a game
that two can play at." The strategy looking to a future trial of
strength was skilfully planned. There was no challenge to the
government plans. It was given full liberty of action upon the
understanding that it would accept full responsibility and be
prepared to render an account in due time to parliament and people.
The tactics were those of paying out the rope as the government
called for it. The attitude of the Liberal leaders towards the war
was unexceptionable. Sir Wilfrid's recruiting speeches--and he made
many of them--were admirable; and he did not hesitate to point the
way of duty to the young men of his own province. Upon things done
or not done the attitude of the parliamentary Liberals was
increasingly critical; and the government, it must be said, with its
scandals over supplies, its favoritism in recruiting, its beloved
Ross rifle, gave plenty of opportunity to opposition critics. With
every month that passed the political advantage that had come to the
government, because it was charged with the task of making war,

General elections were due in the autumn of 1916. It became a
serious question of Liberal policy to decide between agreeing to an
extension of the life of parliament, which the government intended
to request, and the forcing of an election. Two lieutenants of Sir
Wilfrid toured Western Canada sounding Liberal opinion; their
disappointment was obvious when, in a conference with a group of
Liberals in Winnipeg, they found opinion solidly adverse to an
election. Their reasons for an election were plainly stated--in
brief they were that on the details of its war management the
government could be, and, in their judgement, should be, beaten. But
Sir Wilfrid, with his hand on the country's pulse, could not be
stampeded. He saw, more clearly than his lieutenants, the danger to
the party of refusing an extension at that time. A twelve months was
added to the life of parliament with a reservation in the minds of
the Liberals that the first extension would be the last. This meant
an election in 1917.


Mr. Bourassa was acutely conscious of the development of opinion in
Quebec favorable to the Liberals, and he sought to retain his hold
upon his following by the tactics which in the first place had given
him his following--by going to extremes and outbidding Laurier. The
chief article in the Nationalist creed was that Canada was
everywhere a bilingual country, French being on an equality with
English in all the provinces. This contention rested upon a
conglomeration of arguments, assertions, assumptions, inferences,
and it was backed by thinly disguised threats of political action.
The opposing contention that bilingualism had a legal basis only in
Quebec and in the Dominion parliament with its services and courts
was interpreted as an insult. Mr. Lavergne, the chief lieutenant of
Mr. Bourassa, was wont to wax furiously indignant over the
suggestion, as he put it, that he must "stay on the reservation" if
he was to enjoy the privileges that he held to be equally his in
whatever part of Canada he might find himself.

Events in Ontario put the test of reality to the Nationalist
theories. A feud broke out between the English-speaking and the
French-speaking Catholics over the language used for instruction in
separate schools where both languages were represented; and
resulting investigation revealed a state of affairs suggesting
something very like a conspiracy to minimize or even abolish the use
of English in all school areas where the French were in control.
Resulting regulations and legislation intended to put a stop to
these conditions gave French a definitely subordinate status. This
fired the heather, and later somewhat similar action by Manitoba
added fuel to the flames. The Nationalist agitation was resumed with
increased vehemence in Quebec; and the Ontario minority were
encouraged to defy the regulations by assurances that means would be
found to bring Ontario to time. In addition to legal action (which
brought in the end a finding by the Privy Council completely
destroying the Nationalist claim that bilingualism was implied in
the scheme of Confederation) various ingenious attempts were made to
apply pressure to Ontario. The most daring, and in results the most
disastrous, was the threat that if Ontario did not remove the
"grievances of the minority" the people of Quebec would go on strike
against further participation in the war. That dangerous doctrine
operating upon a popular mind impregnated with suspicion of the
motives and intentions behind Canada's war activities, produced the
situation which made inevitable the developments of 1917. The
movement against Ontario was Nationalist in its spirit, its
inspiration and its direction. Side by side with it went a
Nationalist agitation of ever-increasing boldness against the war.
Ammunition for this campaign was readily found in the imputations,
innuendoes, charges, mendacities of the Labor and pacifist
extremists of Great Britain and France; they lost none of their
malignancy in the retelling. Bourassa included Laurier in the scope
of his denunciations. Laurier's loyal support of the war and his
candid admonitions to the young men of his own race made him the
target for Bourassa's shafts. Something more than a difference of
view was reflected in Bourassa's harangues; there was in them a
distillation of venom, indicating deep personal feeling. "Laurier,"
he once declared in a public meeting, "is the most nefarious man in
the whole of Canada." Bourassa hated Laurier. Laurier had too
magnanimous a mind to cherish hate; but he feared Bourassa with a
fear which in the end became an obsession. He feared him because, if
he only retained his position in Quebec, Liberal victory in the
coming Dominion elections would not be possible. Laurier feared him
still more because if Bourassa increased his hold upon the people,
which was the obvious purpose of the raging, tearing Nationalist
propaganda, he would be displaced from his proud position as the
first and greatest of French-Canadians. Far more than a temporary
term of power was at stake. It was a struggle for a niche in the
temple of fame. It was a battle not only for the affection of the
living generation, but for place in the historic memories of the
race. Laurier, putting aside the weight of 75 years and donning his
armor for his last fight, had two definite purposes: to win back, if
he could, the prime ministership of Canada; but in any event to
establish his position forever as the unquestioned, unchallenged
leader of his own people. In this campaign--which covered the two
years from the moment he consented to one year's extension of the
life of parliament until election day in 1917--he had repeatedly to
make a choice between his two purposes; and he invariably preferred
the second. In the sequel he missed the premiership; but he very
definitely accomplished his second desire. He died the unquestioned
leader, the idol of his people; and it may well be that as the
centuries pass he will become the legendary embodiment of the
race--like King Arthur of the English awaiting in the Isle of Avalon the
summons of posterity. As for Bourassa, he may live in Canadian
history as Douglas lives in the history of the United States--by
reason of his relations with the man he fought.


The Canadian house of commons was the vantage point from which Sir
Wilfrid carried on the operations by which he unhorsed Bourassa.
Here we find the explanation of much that appears inexplicable in
the political events of 1916 and 1917. Laurier was out to
demonstrate that he was the true champion of Quebec's views and
interests, because he could rally to her cause the support of a
great national party. Hence the remarkable projection of the
bilingual issue into the proceeding of parliament in May, 1916. The
question as an Ontario one could only be dealt with by the Ontario
authorities once it was admitted--Sir Wilfrid being in agreement--that
disallowance was not possible. Yet Sir Wilfrid brought the
issue into the Dominion parliament. If he had done this merely for
the purpose of making his own attitude of sympathy with his
compatriots in Ontario clear, the course would have been of doubtful
political wisdom, in view of his responsibilities to the party he
led. But he insisted upon a formal resolution being submitted.
Professor Skelton, in the passages dealing with this episode, shows
him whipping up a reluctant party and compelling it, by every
influence he could command, to follow him. The writer, arriving in
Ottawa when this situation was developing, was informed by a
leading Liberal member of parliament that the "old man" had thought
out a wonderful stroke of tactics by which he was going to
strengthen himself in Quebec and at the same time do no harm in
Ontario--a feat beside which squaring the circle would be child's
play. Very brief enquiry revealed the situation. Sir Wilfrid was
determined to have a resolution and a vote. The western Liberals
were in revolt; the Ontario Liberals were reluctant but were
prepared to be coerced; most of the maritime province Liberals were
obedient, but there was a minority strongly opposed. Theoretically
the formula that there was to be no coercion, each member voting as
his conscience directed, was honored; but Sir Wilfrid had found it
necessary to indicate that if in the outcome it should be found that
any considerable number of his supporters were not in agreement with
him, he would be obliged to interpret this as indicating that the
party no longer had confidence in him. Professor Skelton supplies
the evidence that Sir Wilfrid pressed the threat to resign almost to
the breaking point. He actually wrote out something which was
supposed to be a resignation before the Ontario Liberals
capitulated. The western Liberals were of sterner stuff; they stood
to their guns. No resignation followed. "The defection of the
western Liberals," says Professor Skelton, "forced from Sir Wilfrid
a rare outbreak of anger." The use of the word "defection" is
enlightening, as showing Professor Skelton's attitude towards the
Liberals who in those trying times adhered to their convictions
against the party whip. He is a thorough-going partisan, which, in
an official biographer, is perhaps the right thing.

The writer's activities in encouraging opposition to these party
tactics led to a long interview with Sir Wilfrid, in which there was
considerable frank language used on both sides. Sir Wilfrid gave
every indication that he was profoundly moved by what he called "the
plight of the French-Canadians of Ontario." They were, he said,
politically powerless and leaderless; the provincial Liberal
leaders, who should have been their champions, had abandoned them;
the obligation rested upon him to come to their rescue. The
suggestion that, while he might be within his rights in thus
expressing his individual views, he should not seek to make it a
party matter in view of the strong differences of opinion within the
party, was rather impatiently brushed aside. Still less respect was
shown the observation that it was not desirable that the Liberal
party should identify itself with a resolution the carrying of which
meant a general election in the height of the war upon a race and
religious issue. Sir Wilfrid, in the course of the conversation,
touched quite frankly upon the necessities of the Quebec political
situation. He advanced the argument, which was put forward so
persistently a year later, that it must be made possible for him to
keep control of Quebec province, since the only alternative was the
triumph of Bourassa extremism, which might involve the whole
Dominion in conflict and ruin.

The episode passed apparently without disruptive results; but
surface indications were misleading. In reality a heavy blow had
been struck at the unity of the Liberal party; there began to be
questionings in unexpected quarters of the Laurier leadership. What
had happened was only too clear, to those who looked at the
situation steadily. Party policy had been shaped with a single eye
to Quebec necessities; and party feeling, party discipline, the
personal authority of Laurier has been drawn on heavily to secure
acceptance of this policy by Liberals who did not favor it. But
there is in politics, as in economics, a law of diminishing returns.
A year later the same tactics applied to a situation of greater
gravity ended in disaster. The split which came in 1917 followed
pretty exactly the split that would have come in 1916 over
bilingualism, had the Liberal members not been constrained by their
devotion to party regularity to vote against their convictions.


The movement for national government long antedated the emergence of
the issue of conscription; it was, in its origin, Liberal. Its most
persistent advocates in the later months of 1916 and the opening
months of 1917 were Liberal newspapers, among them the Manitoba Free
Press; and there was an answer from the public which showed that the
appeal for a union of all Canadians who were concerned with "getting
on with the war" made a deep appeal to popular feeling. The most
determined resistance came from the Conservatives. The ministerial
press could see nothing in it but a Grit scheme to break up the
Borden government, which they lauded as being in itself a "national
government" of incomparable merit. But that movement was equally
disconcerting to the Liberal strategists since it threatened to
interfere with their plans for a battle, to end, as they confidently
believed, in a Liberal victory. In January, 1917, Sir Wilfrid could
see nothing in the movement but an attempt to prevent a French-Canadian
from succeeding to the premiership, and wrote in those terms
to N. W. Rowell.

An offer by Sir Robert Borden to Sir Wilfrid Laurier to join him in a
national government would have been unwelcome at any time excepting
perhaps in the first months in the war; but in the form in which it
finally came, in May, 1918, it was trebly unacceptable. Sir Wilfrid
was asked to help in the formation of a national government to put
into effect a policy of conscription, already determined upon.
Although history will no doubt confirm the bona fides of Sir
Robert's offer, it cannot but be lenient to Sir Wilfrid's
interpretation of it as a political stroke intended to disrupt the
Liberal party and rob him of the premiership. From his viewpoint it
must have had exactly that appearance. Laurier's position in Quebec
had been undermined in the years preceding the war by the
Nationalist charge that his naval and military policies implied
unlimited participation, by means of conscription, in future
Imperial wars. He had always denied this; and when Canada entered
the great war he, to keep his record clear, was careful to declare
over and over again that Canadian participation by the people
collectively, and by the individual, was and would remain voluntary.
As the strain of the war increased the feeling in Quebec in its
favor, never very strong, grew less. There began to be echoes of
Bourassa's open anti-war crusade in the Liberal party and press. Sir
Wilfrid, watching with alert patience the development of Quebec
opinion, began cautiously to replace his earlier whole-hearted
recognition of the supreme need of defeating Germany at all costs by
a cooler survey of the situation in which considerations of prudent
national self-interest were deftly suggested. The "We-have-done-enough"
view was beginning to prevail; and Laurier, intent upon the
complete capture of Quebec at the impending elections, while he did
not subscribe to it, found it discreet to hint that it might be
desirable to begin to think about the wisdom of not too greatly
depleting our reserves of national labor. To Laurier, thus engaged
in formulating a cautious war policy against the day of voting, came
the invitation from Borden to join him in a movement to keep the
armies of Canada in the field up to strength by the enforcement of
conscription. Every aspect of the proposition was objectionable to
Laurier. It meant handing back to Bourassa the legions he had won
from him, and with them many of his own followers. No one was
justified in believing that Laurier with all his prestige and power
could commend conscription to more than a minority of his
compatriots. Sir Robert Borden's proposal meant the foregoing of the
anticipated party victory at the polls, the renouncement of the
premiership, and the loss, certainly for the immediate future and
probably for all time, of the affection and regard of his own people
as a body. The proposition doubtless looked to him weird and
impossible, and not a little impudent. The argument that the
proposed government could better serve the general interests of the
public, or even the cause of the war, than a purely Liberal
government, of which he would be the head, probably struck him as
presumptuous. Three days before Sir Robert Borden made his
announcement of an intention to introduce conscription, Sir Wilfrid,
anticipating the announcement, wrote to Sir Allan Aylesworth his
unalterable opposition to the policy. This being the case, there
never was a chance that Laurier would entertain Borden's offer to
join him in a national government.


Sir Wilfrid, rejecting Borden's offer, adhered to his plan of an
election on party lines; but he knew that conditions had been
powerfully affected by these developments. His position in Quebec
was now secure and unchallenged--even Bourassa, recognizing the
logic of the situation, commended Laurier's leadership to his
followers. If he could hold his following in the English provinces
substantially intact the result was beyond question. He set himself
resolutely to the task. Thereafter the situation developed with all
the inevitableness of a Greek tragedy to the final catastrophe. Sir
Wilfrid surveyed the field with the wisdom and experience of the
veteran commander, and from the disposition of his forces and the
lay of the land he foresaw victory. But he overlooked the
imponderables. Forces were abroad which he did not understand and
which, when he met them, he could not control. He counted upon the
strength of party feeling, upon his extraordinary position of moral
authority in the party, upon his personal hold upon thousands of
influential Liberals in every section of Canada, upon the lure of a
victory which seemed inevitable, upon the widespread and justified
resentment among the Liberals against the government for things done
and undone to keep the party intact through the ardors of an
election. One thing he would not do; he would not deviate by an inch
from the course he had marked out. Repeated and unavailing efforts
were made to find some formula by which a disruption of the party
might be avoided. One such proposition was that the life of the
parliament should be extended. This would enable the government,
with its majority and the support it would get from conscriptionist
Liberals, to carry out its programme accepting full responsibility
therefor. Sir Wilfrid rejected this; an election there must be. This
was probably the only expedient which held any prospects of avoiding
party disruption; but after its rejection Liberals in disagreement
with Laurier still sought for an accommodation. There was a
continuous conference going on for weeks in which all manner of
suggestions were made. They all broke down before Laurier's
courteous but unyielding firmness. There was the suggestion that the
Liberals should accept the second reading of the Military Service
Act and then on the third reading demand a referendum; rejected on
the ground that this would imply a conditional acceptance of the
principle of compulsion. There was the proposal that Laurier should
engage, if returned to power, to resort to conscription if voluntary
recruiting did not reach a stipulated level--not acceptable. Scores
of men had the experience of the writer; going into Laurier's room
on the third floor of the improvised parliamentary offices in the
National History Museum, spending an hour or so in fruitless
discussion and coming out with the feeling that there was no choice
between unquestioning acceptance of Laurier's policy or breaking
away from allegiance to him. Not that Laurier ever proposed this
choice to his visitors. He had a theory--which not even he with all
his lucidity could make intelligible--that a man could support both
him and conscription at the same time. There is an attempt at
defining this policy in a curious letter to Wm. Martin, then premier
of Saskatchewan, which is quoted by Skelton. Sir Wilfrid in these
conversations--as in his letters of that period, many of which
appear in Skelton's Life--never failed to stress conditions in Quebec
as compelling the course which he followed; the alternative was to
throw Quebec to the extremists, with a resulting division that might
be fatal. There was, too, the mournful and repeated assertion--which
abounds also in his letters--that these developments showed that it
was a mistake for a member of the minority to be the leader of the
party. At the close of the session, when it became increasingly
evident that a party split was impending, there were reports that
Laurier proposed to make way for a successor upon some basis which
might make an accommodation between the two wings of the party
possible; and there was an attempt by a small group of Liberal
M.P.'s to bring this about. The treatment of this incident in
Professor Skelton's volume is obscure. In any case it had no
significance and it came to nothing. Laurier alike by choice and
necessity retained the leadership.

Sir Wilfrid misjudged, all through the piece, the temper and purpose
of the Liberals who dissented from his policy. For his own courses
and actions there was a political reason; he looked for the
political reasons behind the actions of those in disagreement with
him. He found what he looked for, not in the actual facts of the
situation but in his imagination. He saw conversion to the Round
Table view of the Imperial problem and the acceptance of dictation
from London--a very wild shot this! He saw political ambition. He
saw unworthy desires to forward personal and business ends. But he
did not see what was plain to view--that the whole movement was
derived from an intense conviction on the part of growing numbers of
Liberals that united national action was necessary if Canada was to
make the maximum contribution to the war. There was very little
feeling against Sir Wilfrid--rather a sympathetic understanding of
the position in which he found himself; but they were wholly out of
agreement with his view that Canada was in the war on a limited
liability basis. In the very height of the controversy Sir Wilfrid
could not be got to go beyond saying that Canada should make
enquiries as to how many men she could afford to spare from her
industries and these she should send if they could be induced
voluntarily to enlist. This was wholly unsatisfactory to those who
held that Canada was a principal in the war, and must shrink from no
sacrifices to make victory possible. Still less satisfactory was the
professed attitude of the Liberal candidates in Quebec; with few
exceptions they embraced the anti-war Nationalist programme. It
became only too evident that a Liberal victory would mean a
government dependent upon and controlled by a Quebec bloc pretty
thoroughly committed to the view that Canada had "done enough." For
those committed to the prosecution of the war to the limit,
conscription became a test and a symbol; and ultimately the pressure
forced reluctant politicians to come together in the Union
government. There followed the general election and the Unionist
sweep. Laurier returned to parliament with a following of eighty-two
in a house of 235. Of these 62 came from Quebec; and nine from the
Maritime provinces. From the whole vast expanse from the Ottawa
river to the Pacific Ocean ten lone Liberals were elected; of these
only two represented the west, that part of Canada where Liberal
ideas grow most naturally and freely. The policy of shaping national
programmes to meet sectional predilections, relying upon party
discipline and the cultivation of personal loyalties to serve as
substitutes elsewhere had run its full course--and this was the


The events of 1917 were both an end and a beginning in Canada's
political development. They brought to a definite close what might
be called the era of the Great Parties. Viscount Bryce, in a work
based upon pre-war observations, in dealing with Canadian political
conditions, said:

"Party (in Canada) seems to exist for its own sake. In Canada ideas
are not needed to make parties, for these can live by heredity, and,
like the Guelfs and Ghibellines of mediaeval Italy, by memories of
past combats; attachment to leaders of such striking gifts and long
careers as were Sir John Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier, created
a personal loyalty which exposed a man to reproach as a deserter
when he voted against his party."

For these conditions there were reasons in our history. Our parties
once expressed deep divergencies of view upon issues of vital
import; and each had experienced an individual leadership that had
called forth and had stereotyped feelings of unbounded personal
devotion. The chiefships of Laurier and Macdonald overlapped by only
four years, but they were of the same political generation and they
adhered to the same tradition. The resemblances in their careers,
often commented upon, arose from a common attitude towards the
business of political management. They conceived their parties as
states within the state. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say
they conceived them as co-ordinate with the state. Of these
principalities they were the chieftains, chosen in the first place
by election--as kings often were in the old times; but thereafter
holding their positions by virtue of personal right and having the
power in the last analysis by their own acts to determine party
policy and to enforce discipline. Their personalities made these
assumptions of power appear not only inevitable, but proper.
Personal charm, human qualities of sympathy and understanding; an
inflexible will which, except in crises, worked by indirection; the
prestige of office and the glamor of victory; and the accretions of
power which came from the passage of time--half their followers
towards the end of their careers could not remember when other suns
shone in the firmament; all these influences helped to transform
party feeling into that blind worship which drew from Viscount Bryce
his mordant comment.

This venerable but archaic political system did not survive the war.
Beside the loyalties inspired by the war tribal devotion to a party
chief seemed a trivial concern. Canadians, who gave first place to
the need of getting on with the war, viewed with consternation the
readiness of elements in both parties to put their political
interests above the safety and honor of the commonwealth. The
movement for national political unity was born of their concern and
indignation. This development was almost as displeasing to the
Conservative partisans as to the Liberal "legitimists," who upheld
the right, under all circumstances, of Laurier to regain the
premiership; and it was their inveterate and unthinking opposition
that had much to do with the ultimate disruption of the union. They
did not realize, until they got into the elections of 1921, that
their party had disintegrated under the stresses of war.

A study of the origin, achievements, failures, downfall and
consequences of Union government might be of interest, but it does
not come into a survey of the life of Laurier. These matters are
related to the influences that are now making over Canadian
politics; they concern the leaders of to-day, all minor figures in
the 1917 drama. Because the Union government passed without leaving
behind it tangible and visible manifestations of its power, there
are those who regard it as a mere futility--a sword-cut in the
water, as the French say. But of the Union movement it might well be
said: Si monumentum requiris circumspice. The spirit behind the
movement passed with the war, but it left the old traditional party
system in ruins. The readjustments that are going on to-day, the
efforts at the realignment of parties, the attempt to newly appraise
political values, and to redefine political relationships--all these
things are testimony to the dissolving, penetrating power of the
impulses of 1917.

But the task of attempting political reconstruction in a new world
was not imposed upon Laurier. The signing of the armistice was the
signal for the release of new forces; it was a great turning point
in the world's history. But for Laurier the tale of his years was
told. There was something fitting in the departure of the veteran
with the turning of the tide. He had been a mere survival on the
scene following the elections of 1917 which put into the hands of
the Union government a mandate to "carry on" for the remainder of
the war--which at that time gave promise of stretching out
interminably. That election set bounds to his ambitions, wrote finis
to his political career. "Unarm; the long day's work is o'er." He
continued to hold his rank in a party which waited upon events,
knowing that the task of rebuilding and reconstruction must fall to
younger hands. The serenity of mind which had sustained him in all
the changes of a long and varied life did not desert him; and he
looked forward with fortitude to the end now approaching. He had
come a long way from the humble beginnings in St. Lin, 77 years
before. Childhood; happy, carefree boyhood; a youth of gallant
comradeship with the young swordsmen of a fighting political army;
the ardors of a career in the making full of delights of battle with
his peers; the call to the command; the conquest of the premiership;
the long, crowded, brilliant years of office with their deep
anxieties, crushing responsibilities, great satisfactions,
substantial achievements; the bitterness of unexpected defeat; the
gallant fight to win back to power ending by a stroke of fate in
disaster; the final disruption of his party and the loss of old
friends who had followed him in victory or defeat; these
recollections must have been much in his mind during this year of
afterglow. The end was fitting in its swiftness and dignity. No
lingering, painful illness, but a swift stroke and a happy release.
"Nothing is here for tears; nothing to wail."

The End

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