OUR IMPERIAL RELATIONS
An Address by Mr. N. W. ROWELL, K.C., M.P.P., Leader of the Opposition in the Ontario Legislature, before the Empire Club of Canada, on October 31, 1912.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,--Our view as to what our Imperial relations should be will depend largely on our conception of Empire, and of the ideal towards which we should work. There are, however, some facts and some principles upon which, I feel sure, we can all agree
(1) Canada and the other self-governing Dominions are no longer colonies dependent upon Great Britain, but are, as Sir Frederick Pollock, one of the most distinguished of British jurists has said, "Separate kingdoms having the same King as the parent group, but choosing to abrogate that part of their full autonomy which relates to foreign affairs . . . . The States of the Empire stand on an equal footing, except that the Government of one of them represents all the rest in the community of nations, and is gracefully permitted in consequence to undertake to pay for maritime defence;"
(2) The King and not the Imperial Parliament is the real and vital bond of union between the Dominions and the Mother Country, and the present Imperial Parliament, except in foreign affairs, peace and war, and other questions of like character, no longer professes to speak or legislate for the self-governing Dominions, whose national status is now frankly recognized;
(3) If some new body is to be constituted which, together with the Crown, shall constitute a unifying force in the management of the affairs of the Empire, it must be a body not which suits Canada or Great Britain alone, but which meets the needs of all the self-governing portions of the Empire, and is acceptable to all self-governing peoples of the Empire. No one would for a moment suggest that any new organization should be, or could be, imposed upon any of the self-governing Dominions. Any such new body or organization must be constituted by these Dominions themselves, acting with the Mother Country.
(4) Such a body must recognize the full equality of the five free nations which go to make up the Empire, and that the principle governing their action must be cooperation and not the centralization of power in the hands of one;
(5) Such a body must be truly representative and truly responsible to the peoples or governments of all the self-governing portions of the Empire;
(6) To endeavour to force the creation of a new organization which would limit or curtail the rights of self-government of the free nations of the Empire would imperil rather than promote unity, but as we work together, profiting by the experience of the past and seeking to meet the needs of the present, we shall work out for the whole Empire the organization best suited to the Empire's needs. The British constitution has been of slow growth. It is the product of the needs and of the experience of generations. The genius of the British people is equal to the task of meeting the needs of the future, and of the new conditions which may confront us as a people.
Four suggestions have been made in recent years as to the form an Imperial organization should take: (1) Imperial Federation; (2) Imperial Council of Defence; (3) Committee of Imperial Defence; (4) Imperial Conference.
(1) Imperial Federation
The first sought to solve the problem by giving Canada and the other Dominions representation in the present British Parliament. This would mean centralizing the power in the hands of Great Britain. It is inconsistent with our national status and self-governing powers, and it is no longer advocated by any responsible leader of public opinion in any part of the Empire.
(2) Imperial Council of Defence
At the Imperial Conference of 1911, Sir Joseph Ward, Prime Minister of New Zealand, proposed the creation of an Imperial Council of Defence in which all the selfgoverning portions of the Empire should be represented in proportion to population, and that this Council should deal with all matters of defence and foreign policy. Sir Joseph Ward contended for a unified system of defence for the whole Empire, and for the right of the Dominions to share in the control and direction of foreign policy through the new Council or .Parliament of Defence, in which all the Dominions should be represented. The resolution was unanimously opposed by the other members of the Conference, either because of its impracticability or because it was inopportune. Mr. Asquith, President of the Conference, in expressing the view of the Government of Great Britain stated that the proposal was one to which he could not possibly assent
It would impair, if not altogether destroy, the authority of the Government of the United Kingdom in such grave matters as the conduct of foreign policy, the conclusion of treaties, the declaration of the maintenance of peace or the declaration of war and, indeed, all those relations with foreign powers, necessarily of the most delicate character, which are now in the hands of the Imperial Government, subject to its responsibility to the Imperial Parliament. That authority cannot be shared, and the coexistence side by side with the Cabinet of the United Kingdom of this proposed body-it does not matter by what name you call it for the moment-clothed with the functions and the jurisdiction which Sir Joseph Ward proposed to invest it with, would, in our judgment, be absolutely fatal to our present system of responsible government . . . We cannot, with the traditions and the history of the British Empire behind us, either from the point of view of the United Kingdom or from the point of view of our self-governing Dominions, assent for a moment to proposals which are so fatal to the very fundamental conditions on which our Empire has been built up and carried on.
All those who had the opportunity of hearing Sir George Reid, the Australian High Commissioner, speak on the question of our Imperial relations will recall with what clearness and force he pointed out the difficulties in the way of any such new Imperial organization with power to exercise control over the whole Empire. Such a proposal would not be entertained at the present time by the free nations of the Empire.
(3) The Committee of Imperial Defence
In view of the proposal now being made that a representative of Canada should have a seat on the Committee of Imperial Defence, it is of interest to consider the personnel, character, and the power of this Committee.
The Committee of Imperial Defence consists of the Prime Minister of Great Britain as the only, permanent member, and such other persons as he may invite to sit as members of the Committee. The London Times recently pointed out that "in normal times it consists of the Secretaries for Foreign Affairs, the Colonies, War, and India, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Permanent Secretaries, and other important officers of these Departments, and one or two others-such as Lord Haldane and Lord Kitchener--specially nominated by the Prime Minister with the approval of the King." The functions of the Committee as described in the memorandum circulated to the Colonial Conference in 1907, are
(a) To facilitate common discussion and agreement as to matters of Imperial Defence which fall within the purview of more than one Department, and which otherwise might involve long and indecisive correspondence;
(b) To advise in case of any questions relating to local or general defence which may be referred to it by the Secretary of State at the request of the self-governing colonies;
(c) To bring naval and military experts into direct touch with the Ministers, who are enabled to question them freely and fully, thus avoiding the misunderstandings which may arise from minutes and memoranda.. The Committee is a purely consultative body, having no executive powers or administrative functions . . . . Questions are referred to the Committee by the Prime Minister, or by the head of a Department of State. When special information is required, the Prime Minister may summon any person who may be in possession of such information. When a colonial question is discussed, either the Secretary of State for the Colonies or another representative of the Colonial Office is present.
After the Colonial Conferences of 1907 had settled the constitution of the Imperial Conference, it also by resolution provided for colonial representation on the Committee of Imperial Defence when matters affecting the colonies should, at the request of any colony, be brought up for consideration, but under this resolution the Committee of Imperial Defence would be purely an advisory body to any particular Colony or Dominion which desired to secure its advice, as at the present time it is an advisory body to the British Government on matters of Defence.
The position of a representative of Canada on this Committee would apparently be equal but not superior to that of Permanent Secretaries or other officers of the Departments of the British Government, and it is quite clear from Mr. Asquith's statement, as well as from the recent statement in the London Tines as to the personnel and functions of this Committee, that there is no intention on the part of the Imperial Government of making this Committee, even with the representatives of Canada, and the other Dominions upon it, anything more than an advisory committee to the British Government, a Committee absolutely under the control of the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
While representation on the Committee of Imperial Defence may serve a useful purpose, particularly when matters affecting Canada are under consideration, all must agree that no one would seriously suggest that giving Canada or the other Dominions a seat on this Committee would be giving them any real voice in the management of defence or of foreign policy.
(4) The Imperial Conference
The Imperial Conference, formed by resolution of the Colonial Conference of 1907, concurred in by the Governments of Great Britain and all the self-governing Dominions, is today an effective organization for dealing with matters of common interest to the whole Empire. This Conference was a natural development from the first Colonial Conference of 1887, called by the Government of Great Britain at the time of the Queen's Jubilee. At the opening of the Conference of 1887 Lord Salisbury stated, "We are all sensible that this meeting is the beginning of a state of things which is to have great results in the future. It will be the parent of a long progeniture, and distant councils of the Empire may, in some far-off time, look back to the meeting in this room as the root from which all their greatness and all their beneficence sprang." Lord Salisbury little dreamed that within the short space of twenty years a truly Imperial Conference would be organized with the full assent of all the self-governing Dominions. This Imperial Conference, created in 1907, marked a new era in the national development of the Dominions, as well as in the relations between these Dominions and the Mother Country. It recognizes the national status of the Dominions, as distinct from the Mother Country. It is truly representative in its character, being composed of the Prime Ministers of the Mother Country and self-governing Dominions; it is responsible in that each Prime Minister has back of him a parliamentary majority, and therefore has the power to implement the resolutions to which he gives assent; it recognizes the autonomy of all the governments, and no resolution affecting any particular government can become effective unless assented to by it. It is formed for the consideration of all matters of common interest.
The Conference has already done much to promote co-operation and unity in matters of common interest throughout the Empire. It has furthered measures for Imperial Defence on land and on sea; for the development of inter-Imperial trade; for the improvement of communications and transportations throughout the Empire; for the harmonizing of our laws at important points of common interest, and for the creation of a truly Imperial citizenship.
Two Imperial organizations of equal status and responsibility are impossible. Do not let us lose the substance in grasping for the shadow. Let us maintain the Imperial Conference in its strength, its freedom, and its truly representative character as an effective instrument for co-operation in Imperial affairs. It is the organization to which the statesmen of the Empire have for years given their best thought, and which has proved such a unifying force in promoting the highest interests of both the Dominions and the Mother Land, an organization which, judged by its past history as well as its present character, is capable of developing to meet the future needs and exigencies of the Empire.