- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 9 Dec 1926, p. 299-310
- Wrong, Prof. George M., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The idea, sometimes expressed in Canada, that Great Britain has been standing in the way of the development of equality in respect of Canada. The speaker's belief that there is no truth in that. The value in the Conference in London in that it does reveal a state of mind: a state of union spread all over the British Empire which seems to the speaker to be very promising for the future. Opinions formed by the speaker in respect to nationalism in Canada, presented here and also printed in the July number of the Journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Canada's destiny to be on the lines of its past development, with the speaker seeing no prospect of any violent change in those lines of development. The issue of equality. Two kinds of equality that the speaker has in mind: equality of privilege, and equality of responsibility. At the present moment, a lack of equality between Canada and Great Britain. Instances to show that that is so. Recent constitutional controversy over Canada's control of foreign affairs. Understanding the constitution of the British Empire. The lack of single treaty-making power over the Empire. The Government of Great Britain as the one authority in the British Empire for making war and concluding peace. The increasing rapidity of change, with example. Similarly, astounding changes that have taken place in our political development, with example. The authority of the King that has been handed over to the representatives of the people. Some remaining surprising things that the King can do. The power positions of King and Parliament. Political authority that has passed from the sovereign to the masses of the people. The problem with which we are confronted in Canada with regard to who governs. Failed efforts at the organic union of the British Empire. The failure to create a co-operative diplomacy, instanced by the Locarno Treaty. Some conclusions: the next step in development for Canada is to fully complete its national life, leaving Australia and South Africa to take care of themselves. The mischief that nationalism has sometimes caused. Different kinds of nationalism. The fine part that nationalism has played in history, on the whole: a look at Scotland, England, France. The conjecture that if Germany had developed in the course of the centuries a real national sentiment we probably should not have had the crisis of the great war. The lack of a steady growth of a sense of unity among the German peoples. Some statements which the speaker believes to be shocking. A suggestion to change the name from the "Dominion of Canada" to the "Kingdom of Canada." A further suggestion to make the declaration that the parliament of Canada has over Canada and Canadians the same authority that the Parliament of Great Britain has over the people of Great Britain. Canada to take over the power to change her own constitution. Objections and response to those objections. A third suggestion that if Canada becomes a real sovereign power she must herself determine on questions of war and peace. Letting foreign countries know where we stand. Exercising our imaginations to call up what is meant by some of the things the speaker has said: some scenarios. A word or two about equality of responsibility. What Great Britain is doing in the world. Canada, using its power for the benefit not only of herself but of other peoples, with Great Britain as an example of how this may be done.
- Date of Original
- 9 Dec 1926
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- Full Text
- CANADA'S PROBLEM OF EQUALITY WITH GREAT BRITAIN
ADDRESS BY PROF. GEORGE M. WRONG, M.A., LL. D., PROFESSOR OF HISTORY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto, Thursday, December 9, 1926.
The PRESIDENT introduced the speaker.
Mr. President and gentlemen, it is rather by pressure of circumstances that I have had to go into the problem on which I am to speak to you, and I have arrived at certain conclusions which you may or may not accept. Let me say at once that the recent Conference in London has not altered anything; it has simply revealed a state of mind--a most satisfactory state of mind--and when the representatives of the different parts of the Empire came together in London it was found that, in spite of rumblings about disagreements, they in effect agreed on all the main problems.
Sometimes in this country I hear the idea expressed that Great Britain has been standing in the way of the development of equality in respect of Canada. I think that has no truth in it at all. I think that Great Britain has only been waiting for the other parts of the Empire, and perhaps particularly for Canada, to fully make up her mind what she wants in order to fit in with that state of mind and to reach some common understanding. I think that the Conference in London is particularly valuable because it does reveal a state of mind. It has made no change; the Conference had no authority to make any change, but it has revealed a state of union spread all over the British Empire which seems to me to be very promising for the future.
I went last January to England, and some of my friends there knew I was going over, and they asked me to be prepared in April of this year to put before the Royal Institute of International Affairs the opinions that I had formed in respect to nationalism in Canada. I had some time to think about it, and on the 20th April of this year I expressed there my views, and if you wish to find those opinions in a more coherent form than I may give them to you now you will find them printed in the July number of the journal of that Institute.
The problem in respect of Canada is not remotely related to any question of Canada passing out of the British Empire. Stray travellers, an occasional Bishop, sometimes a Dean, or sometimes people not as exalted as these, will come here and talk to perhaps a dozen people and go away and tell what wonderful things are going to happen in respect of Canada. I suspect that one of those gentlemen who went back to England and said that Canada was going to become a French country was perfectly surprised when he landed at Quebec and Montreal and found that some people were speaking French. I presume he had not known that before, and that he was quite astounded that the French language should be used in Canada.
There is no more danger of this country becoming other than a British country and being pro-British in its thought than there is of this country joining the United States. Let us stop talking about that, because it is quite beyond the range of possibility. It has not happened in history that a nation of nine million people should be attached to and absorbed by another nation. Whatever destiny this country has, it is to be on the lines of its past development, and I see no prospect of any violent change in those lines of development.
Now, I am to talk to you about equality, and I have two kinds of equality in my mind. There is equality of privilege, of which I am to speak mainly; there is also the equality of responsibility, of which I shall also speak. At the present moment equality does not exist between Canada and Great Britain. It is hoped for and talked of, but it does not exist. One only needs to point out three or four things to show that there is not equality.
For instance, the British Parliament can change the constitution of Great Britain at will. The Canadian Parliament cannot change the constitution of Canada without having it endorsed by an Act of the Imperial Parliament. Equality would mean that Great Britain could not change its constitution unless we passed an Act, just as we cannot change our constitution unless they should pass an Act. Then the Parliament of Great Britain has extra-territorial authority, and it follows that it has authority over all British citizens in all parts of the world. Canada has not that extra-territorial authority, and cannot follow citizens beyond the borders of Canada. So in that respect there is no equality between Canada and Great Britain.
Then take the office of the Governor-General, who is sent here, and who is someone agreeable to the Government of Canada, but who is sent as a representative of the King, named on the recommendation of Great Britain. When the Governor-General is in Canada he is not merely the head of the State as representing the Sovereign, but he is also the official agent of the British Government, and reports to the British Government as such; so he is here in a dual capacity--as the representative of the King, and also as a commissioner from the Government of Great Britain. If there were equality, and we had the same thing in respect of Great Britain, our High Commissioner in London would be discharging also the functions of King George, but I fancy I need not mention to you that he does not discharge such functions.
Now, when a nation that has attained to a state of development that leads it to aspire to be self-governing--some nations apparently never reach that stage--there is no halting place on the way until it reaches the final complete goal. If the political history of the last hundred years teaches anything it teaches that. Canada was a conquered country, conquered from another nation, and unlike Australia and New Zealand; and inevitably it was governed for a time by military officers, and for some thirty years had no representative institutions at all; and even after Canada had secured such institutions the military officer, who is usually the governor, had executive forces in his hands. There was restiveness, and in the end there was change. Each time there was change some thought that finality had been reached. For instance, Lord Durham, who played such a large part in the constitutional development of this country, had an idea that Canada should not have control of her external trade or of her crown lands, that she should not be able to change her own constitution and that her foreign relations should be in the hands of Great Britain. In those days that was regarded as the last word in the possible development of constitutional liberty in this country. We smile now to think that matters could have stopped at that, but old-fashioned constitutionalists were saying only two years ago that Canada should not make a treaty with a foreign power unless on the recommendation of the ministry in Great Britain to the King. That problem was solved simply by doing it, by making a treaty, and during the last year Canada has made more than one treaty with the United States in her own name. So let me go back to what I said--that there is no halting place in respect of eventual development when you have a people who have real aspirations towards that thing.
Today the constitution is substantially this--that there is no single executive authority for the whole British Empire. The Government of the British Empire is divided up among various units, each acting on its own authority; there is no single legislative authority for the Empire. In law there is: the British Parliament has supreme legislative authority over the whole Empire, but in practice there is no single such authority; there is no single treaty-making power in the Empire. Not so long ago there was; today treaties are made in the name of Great Britain. A country like Canada is exempt from the operation of a treaty until it may choose itself to act apart. So we have no single treaty-making power over the Empire. The one central authority that remains is the one of which I shall speak in a moment.
There is one authority in the British Empire for making war and concluding peace, and that authority is the Government of Great Britain.
We have all found, in our individual lives, that changes come very rapidly. We who are growing elderly look around and realize that the boy of 20 years ago, to whom perhaps we lectured as a student, and who seemed a boy, is today a man taking an important part in affairs. We live in a world that is always changing. We may regret it, and sigh for the good old days, but it is the lot of human life that change is incessantly taking place, and it seems to me that change is becoming more rapid as the world grows older, and human invention becomes more expert. We cannot imagine that the English village of 1600 was greatly different from that two centuries later, but rural England today is in large measure utterly unlike that of a hundred years ago.
A great English constitutional writer, Bagehot, in 1872, in the introduction to his studies on the English Constitution, remarked, " No stone is left of the Palmerston Building." Palmerston, the Prime Minister, died in 1865, and one of the most penetrating minds in England in respect of political development said that not a stone was left of the Palmerston Building. That shows how rapid the change was. In the meantime the Reform Bill of 1867 had been passed, which greatly extended the franchise, and it swept away the Palmerston edifice.
Similarly, in our political development astounding changes have taken place. Our British political system, including our law courts, is based upon the idea that the King rules. If any of you gentlemen are unfortunate enough to be put in jail--which I hope will not occur--it is the King who is going to put you there; you are going to be tried by the King, and the King will punish you. The King is the central figure in our political and legal life, and in time past the King actually carried on the Government. The result is that our political institutions today express in words that idea. The King does everything. But we all know that what has happened is that the authority of the King has been handed over to the representatives of the people, but the King can still do surprising things, in fact, as Mr. Bagehot said, "The King could dismiss every officer in the Army and in the Navy; the King could declare war and make peace without reference to Parliament; the King could cede London to a foreign power on the strength of his own prerogative." Gentlemen here who are lawyers know that the King's acts would hold in law, but I do not think there is any danger of the King doing anything of that kind. Quite the contrary.
We all know that the powers of the King have passed over to the representatives of the people in Parliament. Sometimes, in spite of knowing that, we speak of the King as if he not only reigned but governed. Now, the King reigns, but he does not govern. It is Parliament that governs. The King has no policy; the King does not even choose his ministers. Bagehot went so far as to say that the King has lost the power of veto, and that if both houses of Parliament passed a bill of attainder sentencing the King to death the King would have to sign the bill. I think there would be some way for the King getting out of it--but that is the position of the King. The point is that political authority has passed from the sovereign to the masses of the people, and in our constitutional system the King performs the most necessary functions in many ways. It is through our being under the monarchy that the British Empire holds together--but the King does not govern; it is the people who make governments.
Now, here is the problem with which we are confronted in Canada. In Great Britain the people make governments, and the people, speaking broadly, are plain, simple men who work with their hands. England has become a democracy. We, too, are a democracy. I suppose that the electorate in Canada is, on the whole--there are exceptions--as intelligent as the electorate of any other country in the world. Now, the problem is, shall the -democracy in England decide the destiny of this country, decide questions of war and peace, for instance, or shall the democracy in Canada decide these things for themselves? A very serious question, you will see, a most important question, but a question that we have to face, and it does not do to shirk.
I regret to have to point out that efforts at the organic union of the British Empire have failed. I myself would have liked to see certain proposals of the people who were associated with the Round-table movement carried out. I personally was ready to see created a central body for the whole British Empire, in whose hands should be placed foreign affairs and destinies. At one time I had a vague hope that such a body might be created. I do not think many serious people today still entertain that hope. Efforts were made to create a federated British Empire. Some forty years ago that was much talked of, but it is not seriously discussed at the present.
A few years ago we had another phase that was not remotely related to organic union, when we talked of co-operative diplomacy; or representatives of Canada and Great Britain, and other parts of the Empire, by consultation and agreement, determining the foreign policy of the British Empire. I regret to say that that phase of development has also broken down. The Locarno Treaty was signed by Great Britain alone, and by common consent the other parts of the British Empire are not to have part in what may prove to have been the most beneficent of all the treaties made during the last ten years.
So organic union has not been within the range of possibility, and the question is on what lines are we going to try to ensure the future unity of the British people. With some reluctance I have come to certain conclusions, and I dare say that most of you now will be in substantial agreement with them, though I do not believe that would have been the case a few years ago.
My general conclusion is that the nest step in development for Canada is to fully complete its national life, and we must leave Australia and South Africa to take care of themselves, as they are quite competent to do.
Nationalism is much talked of in our time, and sometimes I think has proved very mischievous. There is a kind of nationalism that becomes aggressive and sensitive, that goes about with a chip on its shoulder; but I think that our sound judgment will conclude that on the whole nationalism has played a fine part in history. Would Scotland have been better, or worse, had she not developed a national spirit that gloried in the victory at Bannockburn--a victory that has come ringing down through all the intervening centuries? Would England be less or greater if she had not developed that sense of the dignity of the Englishman and the dignity of the English nation which plays so large a part in its literature? Would France be better or worse if the Frenchman had not believed that the sun shone with a rather special radiance in France, and that France has given to the world a civilization unequalled by that of any other nation? Perhaps there is some slight exaggeration of nationalism there, but I think on the whole one may claim that a strong national sentiment has tended to be a beneficent influence in the life of the nations.
Mr. President, I hazard this conjecture--not a statement--that if Germany had developed in the course of the centuries a real national sentiment we probably should not have had the crisis of the great war. What Germany lacked was a steady growth of a sense of unity among the German peoples. Frederick the Great, the leader of Prussia, in the last century spurned the idea of German nationalism. The German nation was created by force of arms, not by the growth of national spirit, and it was the decaying sense of nationalism that led Germany into the great War. So that I think we may claim that a strong national feeling is probably a wholesome influence in the life of a nation.
And now, Mr. President, I am going to say some shocking things to you, because I have come to the point when you ought to be shocked. Our forefathers carried the bill to London that became the British North America Act, and is our constitution now, incorporating in that bill the title for Canada, the Kingdom of Canada.
Now, frankly, I have never liked the title Dominion of Canada. Most of you know why " Dominion" was inserted; the not very far-seeing Colonial Secretary of that time thought that the United States, being a Republic, would be sensitive just after the civil war and might not like to have a kingdom on their northern frontier; and so the word "Kingdom" was changed to a word that I think is nondescript, implying inferiority of status.
My first point is that I would change the name from the Dominion of Canada to the Kingdom of Canada, and in that imply full equality of status with Great Britain. That does not shock you nearly as much as I thought it would--so I will try to do better on my next.
I would have Canada, in some way or other--lawyers would have to determine how--make the declaration that the Parliament of Canada has over Canada and Canadians the same authority that the Parliament of Great Britain has over the people of Great Britain. That may sound to you very innocent, but it is not nearly as innocent as it looks. It means that Canada would take over the power to change her own constitution. That is a point on which we hear occasional discussion. Most of it seems to me extremely ill-informed. It is said that if Canada takes over such powers the special interests of the French in Canada would be endangered. I do not know the particular brand of political lunatic who is going to try to take away from the French in Canada any of the rights they possess, but if there are any people of that kind here I suppose we have lunatic asylums enough to contain them. Nobody who has any sense at all talks of doing anything that will in any way modify the liberties and position of the French in Canada. The argument is that the French are protected in some way in their privileges because we cannot change the constitution of Canada without going to London--which is an actual legal fact. If a majority of the people of Canada want its constitution to be changed, are the people of London going to sit down on a hornet's nest by rejecting the will of the majority in Canada for the sake of the minority? They are not quite as foolish as that. In my judgment the French have no protection whatever in the present provision which involves going to London for an Act. Their protection is in the inherent justice of their position, and in their real political power They count 130 on a division in Parliament, and if that is not enough protection I cannot imagine any other protection than the justice of their position that would be effective.
My third proposal is what is involved in the other-that if Canada becomes a real sovereign power she must herself determine on questions of war and peace. The democracy of Canada must themselves take the responsibility of deciding those questions. Further, we must notify foreign countries of our position; foreign countries must know where we stand. There has been a little sensitiveness in Canada because of the attitude of the United States, which did not invite a Canadian delegate to sit in the Washington Conference, and which has refused thus far to send a minister or ambassador to Ottawa. The United States does not know where we stand yet. I do not think our national life will be complete until we receive at Ottawa representatives from foreign countries, just as the foreign countries receive our representatives. But we shall have to make clear to the world where we stand, and I think that Canada should take these steps of notifying foreign countries that she has assumed a full national life and is at peace or war by her own act.
Now I want to exercise your imagination for a short time. Call up what is meant by some things I have said. If Canada is not at war when Great Britain is at war, then Canada will be neutral. Foreign nations will not recognize our standing as a nation unless we assume the full responsibility to decide for ourselves on questions of war and peace. Now, as a neutral nation we shall have to give to the enemies of Great Britain in our seaports exactly the same privileges that we give to Great Britain herself. We should not be able to allow British troops to cross our territory. A Canadian insurance company doing business in Berlin would not have its property seized by the state, while a British insurance company would. A Canadian is not quite sure whether he is English or Canadian. I have a son living in England, and I do not think he quite knows whether he is an Englishman or a Canadian, and I hope he will never find out. But if he had been in Berlin when war took place he would have had to inform the German government whether he was an Englishman or a Canadian; if English, he would have been interned; if Canadian, he would not have been.
And let us use our imaginations to realize what we are talking about when we talk of assuming to decide on war or peace. As I have said that there is no halting-place in the advance of a nation to full national life, I want to add that I think there is no halting-place there, at any rate, on the part of Canada in moving towards a close union with Great Britain and other parts of the British Empire. I do not believe that the people of this country would for a moment tolerate the idea of remaining neutral if their neutrality in war meant any advantage to the enemies of Great Britain.
Furthermore, those declarations that have been made in London, which may become legal in due course, do not reach the final goal so far as we are concerned; and the next problem that we shall have to consider in Canada is what kind of union and co-operation and understanding this country is going to have with Great Britain for the well-being of the British Empire as a whole. If we are a full nation, and are not pledged to help Great Britain in her time of need, Great Britain is also a full nation, and is not pledged to help Canada in her time of need. The thing always works both ways.
Now, just one last word. I have been talking a great deal about equality of privileges. Just let me say a word or two about equality of responsibility. I think perhaps most of us have not yet realized the change in the spirit of the world that the creation of the League of Nations is going to effect. I fear we are still thinking--and probably necessarily thinking--in the terms of equipment for war, and for a moment it is now wise to swop thinking in that way; but I think that the development of the next ten or fifteen years is going to make the question of co-operation and unity with Great Britain displace that preparation for war in case of need, and rather towards co-operation in whose things that make for the betterment of mankind.
I doubt if many of us realize the part that Great Britain is playing in the world--and in this respect we are now her partners. Last summer I had the opportunity of understanding a little of what Great Britain is doing in respect of Africa--some glimpse into the multitudinous agencies that centre in Great Britain for the betterment of the backward peoples in that great continent--a work that we hardly touch. One gets glimpses, woo, of what Great Britain is doing in India. In spite of discontent in India, one realizes what a mighty force for well-being and security of the people in India is the British work for that land. I venture to say that Great Britain is doing more on the continent of Europe than any other nation to bring together and reconcile the harsh difference on that distracted continent. But all that does now by any means exhaust what Great Britain is doing in the world. With her world-wide trade interests have gone on a world-wide desire to bring some benefit to the peoples with whom she comes into contact.
Now, that touches equality of responsibility. As yew we are very remote and isolated here, naturally so; but as our opportunity expands, as the range of our interests becomes wider, I am quite sure that in Canada we shall walk perhaps now less about equality of privilege, but perhaps more about equality of responsibility. The finest thing in the life of a nation is that it shall use its power for the benefit now only of itself but of other peoples. Thaw is the true nobility, and in respect of that nobility we have a fine example in the country to which we are all attached.
THE PRESIDENT thanked PROFESSOR WRONG for his address.