- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 9 May 1907, p. 11-14
- Foster, Hon. George E., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Bearing the name of the Empire; the need to stiffen up your shoulder and make your limbs good and strong to bear the weight of that portion of Empire work that falls upon you through the coming years. The Empire of Britain just about beginning its work, despite its age and greatness. Now no more critical time in the whole history of the Empire, when the old is being added to by the new. The action and the decision which takes place in the few years which are just now opening determining what the vast British Empire shall be in the future and what place it shall hold amongst the great powers and nations of the world. The impossibility of knowing the outcome of this Imperial Conference. However, three things that force themselves on the speaker's mind: that the present Conference now sitting occupies a unique position in that it is the first business Conference that has stood in the Empire by itself; that there has been a permanence given to the Conference that it never had before; that it has brought the question of trade preference in the British Empire to a place which it has never held before.
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- 9 May 1907
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- Full Text
- THE IMPERIAL, CONFERENCE OF 1907.
An address by Hon. GEORGE E. FOSTER, D.C.L., M.P., formerly
Finance Minister of Canada, before the Empire Club of Canada,
on May 9th, 1907.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,
What struck me when you were going through your business was this: That if there is anything in a name this Club ought to be inspired. It is a good thing to have a name, but I suppose it is well for us to understand sometimes what its significance is, and the name you bear brings responsibilities upon you. It is said that the old
Roman saw in himself and around him all the ancestors whose names he bore, and that he felt that every deed and every honourable action which had been performed by them left it upon his shoulders that he was to do nothing to derogate from that long list of honour and, if possible, he was to add another name as honourable as any that had been upon the roll. Well now, something like that comes upon you. You bear the name of the Empire, and the Empire is a pretty big arrangement, a pretty important thing; it counts for a great deal in this world of ours, and you have got to stiffen up your shoulders and make your limbs good and strong to bear the weight of that portion of Empire work that falls upon you through the coming years.
Another thought is this: Sometimes we have an idea that we belong to an Empire which has been a long while growing up and is just about finished, and if we take that view we make a mistake. As I look over the field and see the wonderful openings of the future with all the wonderful discoveries that are now being put to practical use, with all the immense aggregation of dynamic force which has been accumulating for thousands of years, it seems to me that the Empire of Britain, great as it is and old as it is, is just about beginning its work; its new and greater and most splendid work if it be entered upon properly and pursued with intelligence and diligence. What I mean is that there is no more critical time in the whole history of the Empire, taking the past and future together, and there will be no more critical period than now, when the old is being added to by the new; not simply as an accretion but as an independent factor having its own thoughts, thinking and working out its own destiny; full of hope and confidence and courage in mighty new fields that are practically inexhaustible, in every one of which may dwell an Empire of larger population than the whole Empire is today. I say when you see, these new countries coming up along side of the Old Country and the old country renewing her youth in them and all sitting down together, as they have been for this last week or fortnight, talking over the affairs of this world-wide combination of people; that in the action and the decision which takes place in the few years which are just now opening depends, more than we can think of, what that vast British Empire shall be in the future and what place it shall hold amongst the great powers and nations of the world. So that if anybody has been running away with the opinion that the old Empire is finished and there is no more mechanism and no more work to be put upon it, he had better get out of the idea and drill himself into the exactly opposite one that there was never more skillful workmanship and never more ingenious and strong thought required than at present for the building up of this Empire.
A third point is this: I do not know what will be the outcome of this Imperial Conference which is just now ending its labours. No one of us can tell. I would be very sorry to give an opinion as to what has been done, because everything is very fragmentary. The newspapers do the best they can, but they are fragmentary m their reports, and so it is impossible for us to have just idea of the work which has been done. But there are three things that force themselves on my mind and the first is this: that the present Conference, which is now sitting, occupies an unique position, in that it is the first business Conference that has stood in the Empire by itself. Every one that has taken place before this has been the tail-end of some great celebration, or jubilee of some sort, and consequently has been what you may call simply a side-show, and therefore has not concentrated the thought and attention of the Empire upon it. For the first time the Conference has met by itself, and to do its own work without any extraneous attractions of any kind, met for a business purpose, and to engage in business work, and so it has centered the opinion and thought and attention of the Old Country more than any preceeding convention or conference that has taken place. That is a great, thing to be gained. It is an object lesson standing there in the midst of London today, an object on lesson which every British man and woman looks at, and the significance of which sinks into his or her mind. Here are the Premiers, representatives of all the great out-lying and central parts of the Empire; they are there--London--conferring together upon the mighty destinies of this Empire. That is a tremendous thought to have sink into the minds of the people of this Empire.
The next thing is that there has been a permanence given to the Conference that it never had before. It was occasional. It might meet now or next year, or six years hence; it might never meet again. Now it has been settled that it is to meet regularly. But that is not the best of it; it has also been settled that between the times of meeting there shall be a complete pushing forward and carrying on of the work which it began at the previous meeting; for it has now a permanent Secretariat, the constitution of which we do not know, but we know that it will be good, and it takes up every bit of work which has been done and carries it on, and prepares for the work of the next Conference, and thereby makes that Conference better than it otherwise would be. Those are two things which have been, I think, unique and distinguishing characteristics of this Conference. Another, and by no means a slighter one, is that it has brought the question of trade preference in the British Empire to a place which it has never held before. This policy has encountered some obstacles and felt some difficulties, and the obstacles and difficulties have, to an over-enthusiastic man, appeared to be almost sufficient to make him lose hope, but on the other hand it has at last accomplished the conversion to a definite, plain, trade preference principle of one of the most eminent statesmen in Great Britain today, the Leader of the Opposition, and consequently has had the effect of unifying one great party in England, however large or powerful it may be, in favour of the principle of preference between the different parts of the Empire. Now I think that is a collateral gain which puts the question where it can never again be side-tracked, where it takes the central position as a part of the policy of a great party, and we hope of a great Empire in time; and we have got to be very careful that we do not lose hope, and very thoughtful that immense changes like these can only be gradually brought about, and we have to put our shoulder to the wheel in every part of British Dominions; and instead of thinking there is no chance for the preference, think exactly the opposite, which I believe is true, that never at any preceding time has the principle of trade preferences and uniform goodwill toward each other in different parts of the Empire been stronger or on the greater and wider high road to fulfillment than it is at the present time."