THE NAVAL QUESTION IN ITS RELATION TO THE EMPIRE.
An Address by PRINCIPAL WILLIAM PETERSON, C.M.G., LL.D., F.R.S.C., D.C.L., of McGill University, Montreal, before the Empire Club of Canada, on Feb- 3rd, 1910.
After deprecating the excess of Imperialistic talk sometimes indulged in, and explaining that for him personally Imperialism meant simply the aspiration that the Empire might be enabled to hold together in all the coming time, Dr. Peterson went on to say that Canada was beginning to realize the truth that national growth is dependent on Imperial security. This might be set against statements on the other side, to the effect that all Canada had to do was to go on building up the country, and attending to her own interests, leaving the rest of the Empire to take care of itself. We were either in partnership, with the other component states of the Empire or we were not. We could not have it both ways at once. If we were not in partnership, then Canada could do what seemed best in her own interests just like a man who was in business for himself without any partner.
But if we wanted to remain part of the Empire, we must accept responsibilities and along with them a certain restriction of our absolute autonomy. There was too much talk, at the present time of the need for asserting our individual and separate existence, and of the inalienable rights and privileges of self-government; personally, he would like to hear more of the other side of the story, namely, the responsibilities of nationhood in a partnership of free states. For the true Imperialism was in no way inconsistent with national aims and national aspirations. Referring to the Naval Service Bill, he said he had been a close observer of the current debates at Ottawa, and not being mixed up in party politics, he thought he could offer a suggestion that might reconcile both sides. It was essential that the momentous issue now before the country should be kept outside the sphere of party politics, and that a well-informed public opinion should assert itself in regard to it. However much we might regret the fact, no nation could safely offer at the present day to lie down like a lamb among lions. The King's Speech had just been published, emphasizing the necessity of increased naval expenditure "for the defence of the Empire." It was not a case, as was often stated, of helping the Old Country. It was a question of Imperial security.
Some people seemed to think it was enough to say, "if there is going to be trouble count on us to rally to your aid." But they might be too late. The welfare of the Dominion, with its great volume of ocean-borne trade, counting 63 percent of the whole, was obviously bound up with the sea-power and with the continued existence of the Empire. Dr. Peterson congratulated the Dominion Cabinet for the great advance noticeable in its attitude since 1902, when the Canadian Government was not prepared to discuss Imperial defence at the Conference for the somewhat curious and illogical reason that no one scheme of defence could be devised that would suit the circumstances of each and all of the Dominions overseas. He added that it would be, in his judgment; the greatest achievement of Sir Wilfrid Laurier's long and honoured career if he should succeed, in spite of obvious difficulties, in uniting the whole country behind him on the subject, including his own Province of Quebec. After quoting the views of the British Admiralty, he referred to the importance of the Pacific in the evolution of human history, which he said could be narrated in terms of seapower from the Xgean and the Mediterranean to the North Sea and the Atlantic.
The Empire was the offspring of sea-power, and must be defended by all the sea-power that could be made available to that end. It was, not very re-assuring to find the outcome of the recent Conference on Imperial Defence expressed in words like the following, which occurred more than once in the report of the proceedings--"Should the Dominions desire to assist in the defence of the Empire in a real emergency?" Why, surely if the Empire represented a common interest there should be a desire to defend it on the part of the component states! And as to what was called taxation without representation, they might depend upon it that if those who made so much of this bogey, were offered at the present moment representation in the councils of the Empire, they would probably be the first to run away from the offer. It would be a pity, he thought, if the little Englander, of whom they had heard so much in the past, were now to give place to the little Canadian.
No one, so far as he knew, was advocating a permanent and unconditional contribution by Canada to the Imperial Navy. But it would be two years before they Dominion Government was able even to begin building ships. Why not offer in the interval the equivalent of two battleships to be built in England, and meanwhile let the country study the whole question of getting ready to put the Government's Naval Service Bill in operation. This could not justly be called an unconditional contribution, for it would be easy to stipulate that at the close of the stated period, value should be receivable up to a certain proportion of the gift, in the form of ships assignable to a Canadian fleet unit of the Imperial Navy. On the other hand, it would reconcile both parties and unite the vast majority of the whole country for a common purpose. Dr. Peterson said he was not an alarmist, but something had to be done if we were not to jeopardize that Imperial security which seemed indispensable to our national growth and development. Careless observers often spoke as though what they called the present scare were another instance of the cry of "Wolf." But without any detailed analysis of the present policy of Germany, it was surely enough to recall the fact that within the past few years, Germany had held up both France and Russia, and it was a fact of history that Germany would have intervened in the South African War if she had had the ships she is building now.
We hear many people say that it is great nonsense to imagine that Germany has any intention of attacking England. Possibly so. But let some complicated question develop in some part of the world within the area of British interests and England will either have to agree with Germany, possibly even to accept her dictation, or else take the consequences of disagreement. It is only with the help of the daughter states that the Empire will be able to maintain anything like what has been known in the past as the two-power standard. If anyone in Canada is inclined to think that this has nothing to do with us, and that we may rely upon the protection of the Monroe doctrine, it would be permissible to suggest that Canada should begin to contribute, if not to the navy of the Empire, at least to the navy of the United States! But the other side of the picture is more pleasing. Let the component states of the British Empire stand together, and before another generation has came and gone, we shall be able, with peace forever as our main interest, to present a united front against any possible foe.