The Present Position of the Imperial Problem
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The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 24 Apr 1913, p. 213-224
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Kylie, Professor, Speaker
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Text
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Speeches
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Asking whether there is an Imperial Problem at all. The speaker's view of the correct reading of British History; that plans have been so prepared, and have fitted in so smoothly that people have not seen the degree of careful thought which has gone before. An Imperial Problem or a Canadian Problem as long as the British Empire lasts, as long as Canada lasts. The present Imperial Problem taking the form of a defence problem in outward appearance. Most Canadians today ready to meet that defence problem by putting ships on the sea; how this is a considerable change. The growth of sentiment in Canada within the last two or three years on this subject, and factors that have effected that growth. The need for defence by the balance of power. Disagreement as to what the ships should be and where they should be. An underlying disagreement about policy or control. The issue of who will control Canadian foreign policy. The Co-operation School and the school of the Federationists. The Federationists again divided into two sections: the slow-going, cautious ones, such as Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and the "Now-or-Never" Federationists. Arguments against the Co-operationist school made by Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The need for us to ascertain whether we have any interests throughout the Empire which are sufficient in quantity and in importance to make it worth while to keep the Empire together. "If there are common interests, they will probably end in a common government." The difficulty of saying that at the present. Examples of common interest. Clearing the ground of arguments to consider the strength of any common interests. Discussion follows. Reasons why the Empire should be kept together. The need to study this question and if a conviction on the subject is formed, that these common interests are greater than the separate interests, then the constitutional difficulties will be solved for themselves.
Date of Original
24 Apr 1913
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English
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Full Text
THE PRESENT POSITION OF THE IMPERIAL PROBLEM
An Address by PROFESSOR KYLIE, Associate Professor of History in the University of Toronto, before the Empire Club of Canada, on April 24, 1913

Mr. President and Gentlemen,

I really did not know until I came here today that I was to be a sort of Imperial Friedmann to guard you against all possible diseases, Anti-Imperial or Non-Imperial diseases, or infections. That is a very large order, and I shall in the course of what I have to say be able merely to refer indirectly to some friends of' mine who have spoken in this Club on this subject. However, possibly by means of indirect references I may be able to meet some of their arguments.

Is there an Imperial Problem at all? We are very frequently told that those who are discussing an Imperial Problem are busybodies, not to say conspirators, who are always raising trouble when really there should not be any trouble. The Empire has gone on very well and is still going on very well. Is it not much, these people say, as though you approached a passer-by and said to him, "From the very good colour of your face, your very ample figure, I should really conclude that your constitution were undermined." Well, there is something of course in that objection, but any of us would be perfectly within his rights in going to a friend and saying, "We congratulate you on your very good health and appearance, and we hope in a friendly way that you will take all precautions to ensure the maintenance, the continuance of your good health." That is all we are doing in this case.

It is also objected at times that the British race has always muddled through with these things and that all will come right in the end if we only wait. This is a false position. I believe that in all periods of British History there have been groups of people making plans, preparing to meet changes in conditions. When these changes have come about, the plans have been ready and everything has gone so smoothly that people say, "What a miracle; no one ever thought of this before." I think that this view is the correct reading of British History. I think that plans have been so prepared, and have fitted in so smoothly that people have not seen the degree of careful thought which has gone before. In any case, as long as the British Empire lasts, as long as Canada lasts, for that matter, we shall have an Imperial Problem or a Canadian Problem. So, there is no reason why we should not consider it.

The present Imperial Problem takes the form of a defence problem, that is, in outward appearance. And I think I am safe in saying that most Canadians are today ready to meet that defence problem by putting ships on the sea. I have too much respect for politicians of both parties to think that they could say so much without saying that much, and I think that behind all this discussion the fact is pretty clear, that the people are ready to meet part, at least, of this defence problem by putting ships on the sea. Now, this is a considerable change. There has been a considerable growth of sentiment in Canada within the last two or three years on this subject. The growth has been due, partly at least, to our persistent little friend Mr. Tight-Money, who has been straining at every man's pocket for several months past. There is no doubt that this gentleman has done more than anything else to show Canadians that they are part of the world. They are interested even in what they might have considered before the rather petty quarrels of small European states. We are all in this aggregation of world-interests; in fact Canada has owed its financial existence in a large measure during these last few months to the skill of foreign diplomats, particularly to Sir Edward Grey, who has kept these racial feuds under. I do not think there is anything that has done more to bring Canadian people generally into touch with the financial and political world than this persistent tight money. But there have been other things at work; the Balkan War, the Mexican Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, all show us that the age of peace, the millennium, has not yet come, that there are a great many belligerents about. We also feel more clearly than we did that Canadians have interests abroad. Perhaps in these very states we may have our own citizens. They must be looked after. The position of the Quebec Nationalists is that they are quite willing to cover Nova Scotia with armour-plate and to fill the St. Lawrence with mines, but they have never shown us what possible use those defences could be to protect the property or the life of a Canadian, say, in Mexico. So, too, the persistence of the Oriental Problem, on the western coast, has lately been brought to the minds of Canadians by this affair in the United States. It is not that we want war with Japan or any of these Eastern peoples. We must go to them and say, "We like you very much. You are a very pleasant people, but you do not mix easily with as; we shall have to ask you to restrict your emigration." Now, they will restrict their emigration, they will accept our restrictions if we are strong enough to enforce them. It is not probable that there will be any war, not at all; a great many of these controversies, as has been pointed out, do not cause war or do not result in war. A balance of forces is maintained which prevents war.

For these and other reasons the fact has been borne in on Canadians, more than was possible in the past, that if a nation in the modern world does not defend itself it must be defended by the balance of power--a very good way this second, and very pleasant for the nation--the balance of power being kept up by the great nations among themselves.

These general considerations, and I cannot go into them at greater length, have been enough to persuade the great body of Canadians that something must be done for defence.

Unfortunately, there seems to be some disagreement as to what the ships should be and where they should be and all the rest of it. I think that underneath that disagreement-and here I come to my real subject--there is a disagreement about policy or control. I do not think that people would-in spite of the tendency of some people to argue and dispute--I do not think that people would dispute so long or so bitterly, if there were not at bottom some difference between their ideas as to control and policy. It becomes evident that when you have ships you must have some control over them, and you must have some policy for them. It is not the primary purpose of ships to run aground or even to be laid up in dockyards. There must be some brain behind them, as is now understood in Australia. Those who have gone on a short way into the subject have realized that ultimately you must have a policy for your ships. And on this question there has developed a real difference of opinion. I think it is still there. It has been said, for example, that our policy, our foreign policy--for that is what it amounts to-must be controlled in the last analysis by the Dominion Parliament, that the foreign policy of Australia must be controlled by the Australian Parliament, and that there will never be and can never be over these several parliaments a larger or central body, that the Empire will be, as is said, a galaxy of nations. The school holding this opinion is generally called the Co-operation School.

Over against this school is perhaps the school of the Federationists, who say that over these Dominion Parliaments there must ultimately be some common body or common force. This common body will of course shape the policy of the whole. The division between these schools underlies all this discussion. I do not say that opinion as regards the navy falls into these two groups, as many Federationists may support for a time the Canadian Navy. But in this discussion there is at bottom this difference between Co-operationists, and Federationists who are sometimes called Centralists. This is simple enough, but unfortunately for our purpose another circumstance makes the subject much more complex. These two groups are again divided. The Co-operationists include a group which we must .call Nationalist Co-operationists, people who are willing to co-operate with the British Nation as long as it suits them. I think it is fair to say that Mr. Ewart and Mr. Bourassa belong to that school, and perhaps Mr. Walsh who has written and circulated the "Moccasin Prints." The other members of this school are Co-operationists who think that co-operation is the only means of carrying on the British Empire and that every other creed is dangerous. I should include Dr. Macdonald of The Globe among this number.

The Federationists again are divided into two sections. It is hard to find names for them. The first are cautious, slow-going Federationists, people who say, "Of course, in the long run you must have some kind of federation, but you must approach it very slowly." I venture myself to put Sir Wilfrid Laurier in that category, largely as a result of his two speeches on the Naval Bill, in both of which he was careful to say that federation was a magnificent idea but could not be carried out until Canada had a larger population. I sometimes fear that in his case "Hope deferred maketh the heart"-glad, not "sick." Still, in spite of that, he is, I think, at heart- quite widely. different from many of his followers, one of the slow-going, cautious Federationists, of whom there are a great many.

Lastly we come to the other division of Federationists. They are hard to name, but I venture to call them, though I admit the roughness of the name-the "Now-or-never Federationists" or the "Ready-to-wear Federationists," people who feel very strongly that the Empire can only be kept together by a common government, and who say, "Here is the Common Government now ready, let us enter it and keep it going from this time on." And there are a great many of these probably in this company.

These are the divisions, as I see them at present, of the Imperial Problem. I cannot analyse them any further. The broad division is that division between those who say that there must never be a power above the Dominion Parliaments, and those who say, on the other hand, there must, whether in the long run or now, be a power above the Dominion Parliaments for common purposes. That is the rough division. I do not think that at this moment, certainly not in the time at our disposal, we can discuss the merits of these two classes. I like Cooperation; many of us do. It would be delightful to have all freedom and all authority together. But the difficulty about Cooperation is the obvious one, that it may not work. How are you going to carry on five separate independent states and all these dependencies, and where is the money going to come from? Is it going to be there when it is wanted? What is the position of the dependencies to be? This is all very difficult, and I do not think that those who talk about the galaxy of nations understand the difficulties.

The strongest argument against the Co-operationist school was made by Sir Wilfrid Laurier when in the first speech on the Naval Bill he said that co-operation on such a subject a$ foreign, policy-I am not using his exact words, but I think this is his meaning-would not be possible, that Sir Edward Grey who had to decide from hour to hour, from moment to moment, upon the policy of the Empire, could not be expected, could not be asked to consult New Zealand, and Canada, and Australia beforehand. You must have some responsible body or some responsible statesman to take charge. That is my opinion, but I do not think we are called upon to settle the question to-clay, but We are called upon to consider it.

It will bring us to the larger problem underneath all this discussion about defence, the real Imperial problem at the moment. Probably some of you have thought of it, and have made up your minds. We have to ascertain if possible whether we have any interests throughout the Empire which are sufficient in quantity and in importance to make it worth while to keep the Empire together. I believe that if we persuade ourselves of that, if we do persuade ourselves of that,--and I am not quarrelling with anybody who cannot,--if we persuade ourselves that there are common interests greater than the separate interests, then these constitutional difficulties will adjust themselves. If there are common interests, they will probably end in a common government. It is hard to say that at present. It may be hard to convince Canadians of that at present. Still I think we can satisfy ourselves as to whether there are common interests in the Empire' greater than the interests which might keep us apart. There is, for example, in a great country like the United States at times a divergency of interest between East and West; possibly the same may be so in Canada. My only contention in regard to the United States and Canada is that the common interests are greater than the separate interests, and that is true of any state that holds together. That is all we have to decide really, at bottom, about the British Empire-are the common interests greater than any separate interests which exist at present, or any that are likely to arise? We cannot face that problem frankly-and I think it is a thing for Canadians to settle for themselves-we shall not be able to settle that unless we clear the ground; (and here I come perhaps more to my task of inoculation) unless we clear the ground of a few arguments which are familiar enough, but which have done quite a good deal to obstruct the subject.

These arguments fall, I think, into two divisions. I am trying to make my divisions very obvious, because the subject is complex. You have frequently heard it said that Great Britain has always betrayed the interests of Canada, and that she is not considering them now particularly. This was a main point in Mr. Bourassa's speech. She had framed her foreign policy with regard to Great Britain, not with regard to Canada. Well; of course, that argument reflects a kind of temper. Some one has noticed that the next best thing to having a good cause is to have a good grievance, and there is a great deal in it. That is an answer to some of this argument, but there are several other answers; in the first place, a great many of these things are not true at all, which is a simple answer. The whole argument has been built tip on the false reading of history leading up to the Ashburton Treaty, but in these few moments we cannot go into that subject. Still, while there is a great deal to be said on the other side even as regards the history, the details, there are even better answers. Mistakes, I think, have been made by the administrators of the Empire in the past, and in foreign policy, leading to wars, but who would refuse to admit that the administrators of the Empire were doing their very best in the interest of the Empire? I do not think that they were considering Canada primarily. I do not think we could expect that. The great majority of Canadians were not here when these difficulties arose. I believe it can be shown that British statesmen, with some mistakes, of course, mistakes are inevitable-I will not deny that some mistakes have happened-have done their best consistently for the Empire, and have tried .to do their best, and that is all you can say. We are not called upon here to justify or explain the religious intolerance of the sixteenth century, or of earlier centuries, or anything of that kind. To bother with these things is to create an unhistorical atmosphere. As President Wilson said the other day in a speech, "We must deal with the facts of today, not with the facts of any other day." So, I believe it is a wrong attitude to take to bring up against the men of today, or the system of today, the faults and mistakes of the past. It is, unhistorical, it is an unreal method of argument. You will always have inside the British Empire, as in all other organizations, mixtures of good and evil, but both in its past and in its present I think the good overbalances the evil, and that is as much as any one can say. You cannot take the Empire without the mixture. Soave people want the Empire pasteurized or fumigated. It is out of the question. You must take it as a great mixed institution. We should not be put off by these small racial antipathies. I refuse myself to be put outside the British Empire by the English. There is no reason why any of us who are not English should allow ourselves to be put out. The institution is too big to be governed with a thought to these antipathies and prejudices. So, I think we may pretty well dismiss a good many of these grievances such as those of Mr. Ewart, which are sometimes repeated by Mr. Bourassa. They belong rather to the same school. It is much as if they threatened to leave Toronto because they were not asked to dinner by the Mayor every week. That sort of attitude does not get you very far. It is not as worthy an objection as another one which is very much deeper in many Canadian minds, and one with which I myself have a great deal of sympathy, and that is that Canada's history has been a long development of self-government-a very familiar argument this -that Canadians have gradually taken over one department after another, and to think of doing anything else would be to revere a natural process, to destroy, as is said, the autonomy of Canada. Those are two very familiar arguments in Canada at this day. They are very important arguments and need to be handled very carefully. I think it is perfectly true that Canadian history has grown in that way. I don't think any one is to blame for its doing so. There were people in England who stated quite consistently that their first business was to keep the Empire together, and that these extensions of self-government might not be good for their purposes. There were people in Canada, on the other hand, who saw the immediate needs and saw that local control would suit them better than anything else. It was really a controversy between two rights, not two wrongs. At any moment in the development of self-government we can, as conscious people and agents, say that development of self-government has gone far enough. There are still some common purposes represented by the Imperial Government. Instead of taking these over and bringing them across the ocean into Canada, we shall enter the Imperial Government and carry it on. We can scarcely regard our history as a binding power from which there is no escape. We are not on an inclined plane where we cannot stop. These things must be considered on their merits. It might have been a perfectly good policy to take over the post-office in Canada, but it might not be the best thing to take over foreign affairs. So, as to the number of Canadians on Imperial Councils, Mr. Bourassa has said, and I think perfectly truly, that sooner or later Canadians would have to be represented in these Councils. The difficulty with Mr. Bourassa is that if you gave him representation, he might not wish to take it. We all agree that Canadians must be represented in these Imperial Councils, but they cannot be represented today. The business goes on from day to day. You must enter it gradually. We have not the experienced people. If we enter it, we must enter it slowly and gradually in a tentative kind of way. I do not think that we shall be robbed of anything. We have no place at all in determining these foreign affairs today, so that we cannot lose very much. Moreover, in these big matters numbers are not taken into account. If you send over one able man, he will outweigh ten stupid men who come from some other place. That is the real answer in these matters, and any one who knows anything about government knows that this is the way in which government is carried on. You do not estimate the importance of the Maritime Provinces in Canada and in the government of Canada by their population. That would be a complete mistake, and so it is not probable that you will be able to estimate the influence of Canada in the Council of the Empire by the number of representatives whom she sends there. If we send over the right sort of people, then we shall have all the representation that any one may need.. There is not sufficient time to develop these two arguments further, but these are the two arguments which should be set over against all objections of this sort. The first objection is that Canadians have always been losers, which I am convinced is not true; the second, that Canadians would lose their autonomy, which also is not well-founded.

There is a third difficulty which has been raised and which is very clear in Mr. Bourassa's Empire Club speech, as in all his speeches. It is the sort of difficulty that arises out of making difficulties, so to speak. If you stand off and look at the British Empire, an almost impossible aggregation of people, if you stand off and look at that and begin to make a picture of all the difficulties that that organization presents, you will be palsied, you will be paralysed, you will be struck helpless, and cannot move hand or foot. This is the main reason why Mr. Bourassa is afraid to move. Stand off and make difficulties and you can prevent any great achievement in any department of life. That has been very true of any political advance, such as the confederation of the United States or the confederation of Canada. There were any number of difficulties, and if people had given their attention solely to the difficulties, they would never have reached any conclusion. We must not stand helpless on the brink of a very great future. You must, if possible, correct this attitude, and it is to be corrected in only one way. You must go at this subject from another angle. You must persuade yourself, if you can do it consistently and logically, that there are common interests in the Empire and that the Empire has to be kept together. You can do it, of course, only by a study of the Empire. If you decide that there are common interests worth preserving, then the will to preserve these common interests will carry you over these difficulties. This is my real answer to Mr. Bourassa, and to Mr. Ewart, and to all his school. It is perfectly easy and it is a very common thing, as I say, to conjure up these difficulties and these obstacles, and you will never get anywhere, but if, on the other hand, after a study of the British Empire as it exists, you can convince yourselves it-is worth keeping together, this very conviction will carry you over these obstacles.

It is not necessary to give reasons in an audience of this kind, why the Empire should be kept together, but it may be necessary in other cases. I propose to refer to some reasons, although I admit I am making a jumble of this important subject. There were used here recently two arguments of a certain kind intended for people who drew back from the Empire because it is a big and powerful thing. The first argument was that this Empire offers the best chance of keeping together nations inside some great political organization; that is to say, if inside this British Empire with its common traditions you cannot put together five great nations, then there is very little hope of reconciling the nations in the world at large. If you cannot remove the possibility of quarrels and war between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa, then your thoughts of international peace must vanish into air. I think that this is a very good argument. The Empire presents the best opportunity of uniting national development with a larger unity. It also offers the best opportunity of settling disputes and difficulties between black and white and white and yellow peoples; if these disputes cannot be settled inside the British Empire amicably, then how can they be settled outside in the world? This is the biggest chance--I do not say that because the Empire is a big thing, but because it presents big opportunities--this is the best chance of settling difficulties inside an area or inside a population at any rate, which includes one quarter of the world's population, the greater majority not of our colour. If we cannot work these things out inside that area, then I think even the most ardent lovers of peace will have to give the problem up outside the British Empire. These two arguments are receiving, and will probably receive in future, more attention than they have hitherto received, and I hope that they and similar arguments will be enough to convince people that the Empire has common interests. I do not ask any one to be convinced today, but you can at least study the question, and if you form a conviction on the subject, that these common interests are greater than the separate interests, then the constitutional difficulties will be solved for themselves.

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The Present Position of the Imperial Problem


Asking whether there is an Imperial Problem at all. The speaker's view of the correct reading of British History; that plans have been so prepared, and have fitted in so smoothly that people have not seen the degree of careful thought which has gone before. An Imperial Problem or a Canadian Problem as long as the British Empire lasts, as long as Canada lasts. The present Imperial Problem taking the form of a defence problem in outward appearance. Most Canadians today ready to meet that defence problem by putting ships on the sea; how this is a considerable change. The growth of sentiment in Canada within the last two or three years on this subject, and factors that have effected that growth. The need for defence by the balance of power. Disagreement as to what the ships should be and where they should be. An underlying disagreement about policy or control. The issue of who will control Canadian foreign policy. The Co-operation School and the school of the Federationists. The Federationists again divided into two sections: the slow-going, cautious ones, such as Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and the "Now-or-Never" Federationists. Arguments against the Co-operationist school made by Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The need for us to ascertain whether we have any interests throughout the Empire which are sufficient in quantity and in importance to make it worth while to keep the Empire together. "If there are common interests, they will probably end in a common government." The difficulty of saying that at the present. Examples of common interest. Clearing the ground of arguments to consider the strength of any common interests. Discussion follows. Reasons why the Empire should be kept together. The need to study this question and if a conviction on the subject is formed, that these common interests are greater than the separate interests, then the constitutional difficulties will be solved for themselves.