- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 30 Mar 1916, p. 152-165
- Willison, Sir John, Speaker
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- Not forgetting the pioneer federationists; who they were. A statement that the speaker was not one of the pioneer advocates of imperial federation; that he wants a full citizenship in this country or some other country; that he is not contented with the relation under which in all the imperial and foreign affairs of the Empire to which we belong he has no more voice and no more authority than has an American who lives at Washington; that he was an early advocate of Canadian independence. Why the speaker has become an advocate of Imperial federation. Words and thoughts from several statesmen on Imperial reorganization. Denial that the advocate of federation is under any obligation to give a plan complete in every detail; that it would be and unwise and stupid thing to do; why that is so. Recalling how we set about the organization of Canada's Confederation, and the circumstances for Australia and for South Africa. A comment about a solution for Ireland's troubles. Historical arguments against confederations. A look at Canada's successful Confederation. The characteristics of an Imperial Federation with which the speaker would not be happy. Conditions that he would like to see, and why. Finally demonstrated that the people of Canada will bear a full share of the Imperial burden; all of the burdens that can come with Imperial federation but as yet we have not obtained the authority which Imperial federation would give to us. A response to the criticism that under federation we would sacrifice Canadian autonomy. A consideration of whether we could have remained outside the war and remained inside the British Empire. Knowing now, once and for all, that when Great Britain is attacked Canada is attacked. Urging a regularization of the Imperial relations and combining the energies and resources of this Empire for its own security, for its own strength and in order to enhance its powers to preserve peace and insure the welfare of others. Many of the faults and prejudices which have been cherished for generations burned up in the fire of this war. Response to the criticism that a system of federation necessarily destroys individuality in British communities. Forces at work that will compel federation before we are very much older. The prospects federation opens to Canada. The Dominions, once considered a burden to the British Empire, now a source of strength and security. The task of reconstruction to be even greater than the problem of this war.
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- 30 Mar 1916
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AN ADDRESS By SIR JOHN WILLISON, LL.D.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto March 30, 1916
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,--I think I should say at the outset that I am not one of the pioneer ad vocates of federation. Indeed, I think twenty-five years ago that Mr. Clark and myself spoke on the same subject. I think at the time he was in favour of federation and I was against. But we all live, and some of us learn. He was wiser than I was on that subject and I was wiser than he was on some other subjects. So we call it an even divide at this stage of the contest.
I think we ought not to forget the pioneer federationists. I think we ought not to forget the Denisons, the McCarthys, the Grants and the Parkins, and those other men who saw the vision afar off and followed it with steadfast eyes and earnest hearts through all these years, whether the outlook was dark or bright, whether the skies were fair, or kind or unfriendly and reluctant.
I was not, I say, one of the pioneer advocates of imperial federation. And from the standpoint from which I regarded the question twenty-five years ago I think there were some arguments behind my position. I am not, and I never have been, contented with the colonial relations. I want a full citizenship in this country or some other country. I am not contented with the relation under which in all the imperial and foreign affairs of the Empire to which we belong I have no more voice and no more authority than has an American who lives at Washington. And I was an early advocate of Canadian independence.
It is said to be always a mistake to make an explanation but I make this explanation. I believe when the Duke of Marlborough was dying he said that he had once made a profound mistake; he had once condescended to make--an explanation. I was an early advocate of Canadian independence because under an independent Canada I would have a free and independent citizenship. Whether the country was a feeble one or otherwise it would be an independent country and I would have a full citizenship such as the Canadian never has had as yet in the Empire to which we belong. And it is because I am dissatisfied with the colonial connection in that regard and because I want to have a full citizenship in this Empire and because I think under federation the full citizenship is possible, a citizenship prouder than any other man in the modern world can possess. It is because I have come to see that such a full citizenship is possible that I became a good many years ago an advocate of Imperial federation.
The other day Mr. Fisher, former Prime Minister of Australia-a labour Prime Minister-came to London as High Commissioner for the Commonwealth. And at a meeting. a few days after his arrival at London he said that as a pit boy in Scotland he had more authority in the British Empire in the realm of foreign affairs that he had as Prime Minister of Australia. These were his words, he said : " If I had stayed in Scotland I should have been able to heckle my member on Imperial policy. I went to Australia and have been Prime Minister but at all times I have had no say about Imperial policy." And he added, "That cannot go on. There must be some change." And during this month Mr. Hughes, also a labour leader of Australia and Prime Minister of Australia, has spoken is London. And I just want to quote two or three of the things that he has said. He has said exactly what Mr. Fisher said, exactly what Sir Robert Borden has said in other language; exactly what Sir Wilfred Laurier said when he said : "Call us to your councils." He said : "The fact is that the whole concept of modern statesmanship needs revision. England has been and is the chief of sinners.- Quite apart from the idea of a selfcontained empire there is the idea of Britain as an organized nation and the British Empire as an organized Empire. Organized for trade; for industry, for economic justice, for national defence, for the preservation of the world's peace, for the protection of the weak against the strong." "That," he added, "is a noble idea; it ought to be and it must be ours." And he continued on the same subject
"Let us resolutely, putting aside all consideration of party, class and doctrine, without delay, proceed to devise a policy for the British Empire, a policy which shall cover every phase of our national, economic and social life, which shall develop the tremendous resources and yet be compatible with this idea of liberty and justice for which our ancestors 'fought and died and for which the men of our race, in this the greatest of all wars, are fighting now and dying in a fashion worthy of their opportunity. Let us not any longer pursue a policy of drift but set sail upon a definite course as becomes a mighty nation to whom has been entrusted the destiny of one-fourth of the whole human race."
Now, these quotations from Mr. Fisher and Mr. Hughes at least demonstrate that Australia-not a Tory ridden community, but the most democratic country on the face of the earth-that its people have determined that the present organization of the Empire is unsatisfactory, that it must be reorganized; that it must be a centre virtually; that those living in the dominions must have an equal voice in the foreign affairs of the Empire, and that the man who lives in Toronto or Cape Town or Sydney or Melbourne must feel that he holds a citizenship equal to the man who lives in London or Glasgow, and equal to that which any other independent citizen possess in any other country.
Now, during all the years that Imperial federation has been discussed, its advocates have been met with this one objection : Give us a plan complete in every detail. And it has been assumed that if the advocate of federation fails to give a plan complete in every detail, therefore the whole project falls to the ground. I deny that the advocate of federation is under any obligation to give a plan complete in every detail. Indeed, it would be unwise and stupid to do so. And I will tell you why.
When we set about the organization of this Confederation, if the representatives of the various provinces had gone to the Quebec conference each with a plan complete in every detail, it is doubtful if a solution ever would have been reached or if Confederation would ever have been accomplished. Because the time, the energy, of the representatives of this province would have been dissipated. not in finding a plan but in destroying definite plans which were submitted for their consideration. When the delegates from the Maritime Provinces met at Charlottetown to consider the union of the Maritime Provinces no one went there with a plan. They went there in the hope of finding a plan. And when it was suggested that the delegates from Upper and Lower Canada should be admitted to the conference at Charlottetown and that consideration should be given to the wider project of the union of the Canadian provinces, again no one went there with a plan; no plan was suggested. The, one point upon which all arguments and all appeal was centred was that there was in the Canadian Provinces a public sentiment powerful enough to support a union of these provinces and that a conference should be called with the definite idea of finding a plan of confederation and settling the details of a Canadian constitution. And in all speeches that were made during that remarkable pilgrimage at St. John, Halifax, Fredericton, Quebec, Ottawa, Montreal, Kingston and Toronto, in all those meetings addressed by the statesmen of the various provinces, there is no single reference to a plan of union. The whole argument, as I have said, centres upon the necessity for union and the advantages of union and upon the argument for a conference in order to find a plan of Confederation. It was so in Australia; it was so in South Africa. And while I have no desire to raise a controversial question-certainly not in a controversial fashionI am convinced that if ever Ireland agrees upon the provisions of a provincial constitution, and if ever a legislature is established at Dublin, it will be as the result of a conference between North and South, where the representatives of the North and South of Ireland meet and agree upon the provisions of constitution under which Ireland may become happy, healthy and united. No sudden result will ever be achieved by the attempt to impose a constitution from without, or by political concessions either to North or South from outside.
Now, who would have thought that a few years after the war in South Africa it would have been possible for Dutch and English to meet together in conference and report the provisions of a constitution which has stood even the tremendous time through which we are now passing. And of all the amazing things that have come out of this war, the miracle of British history through all the generations, is South Africa.
It is said that we would restore the authority of Downing Street in Canada; that we would have a feeble representation in an Imperial parliament; that we would be out-voted by the Mother country; that we would be subjected to unequal and inordinate taxation for Imperial objects and projects and that we would sacrifice the fact of self-government for the shadow of substance in Imperial organization.
Well, we ought to be familiar with all these arguments. If you will go through the old pamphlets produced at the time of Confederation, if you will read the debates in the legislative council and legislative assembly and if you will read the literature of the opponents of Confederation in Canada, you will find in detail and in many fashions all the arguments proving Canadian confederation impossible which are now advanced to prove that Imperial Federation is impossible.
It was said that these smaller provinces would lose their independence and individuality; they would be submerged in a federal parliament; that the local institutions of Quebec would be destroyed and the French language suppressed by an English majority. And that in the conflict of sectional rivalries and jealousies government in Canada would become impracticable and impossible. .
Well, what is the result? This Confederation is nearly 50 years old. During the period of Union we have had eight Prime Ministers; three belong to Ontario, two belong to the Province of Quebecone a brilliant representative of the French minority that was to be destroyed and suppressed-and three come from the small province of Nova Scotia. The group of Maritime Provinces, through the character of their representatives in the Parliament at Ottawa, have had an authority in this Confederation out of all proportion to their numerical strength. And I undertake to say that a great balance of the political power of Canada has been exercised by the communities east of the Ottawa River ever since this Confederation was organized. I hope the time will come, and come soon, when we will have a Prime Minister from the West at Ottawa, and I think of nothing that would add more greatly to the unity and stability of the Confederation. And I am very certain that when that time does come, that we in these older provinces will welcome rather than regret the appearance of a western Prime Minister, even if it does suggest the still further transfer of political power from Ontario. We always ought to remember-it is the very genius of the system-that the supreme object of a federal system, necessarily, is to unify, not to destroy. And it is inevitable -I think it is demonstrated by all federal history-that under such a system the smaller communities have more than their fair share of political power, because the stronger communities feel their strength. They are actuated by a peculiar regard for the smaller communities and the racial minorities. And no federal system will permit or can wisely permit, any injustice to be perpetrated upon a minor province or smaller community.
It will be evident from what I have said thus far that I would not be content with any system of Under Secretaries in an Imperial council or an Imperial parliament. Nor would I be satisfied with an Imperial council or Imperial conference. I want, so far as I am concerned, an organic union of the British communities under which the outlying dominions will have an actual voice according to their strength in population and in resources. But to go further than that, and to suggest all the details or to endeavour to forecast just what would be or should be the actual provisions of an Imperial constitution would be unwise to the last degree. Because I argue that you never can develop the details of federation or of an Imperial constitution until the statesmen of the Empire from Canada and Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and from the Mother country meet around a common table, consider all the conditions of the problem, consider what is possible and what is not possible, and agree upon the provisions of a constitution which will be satisfactory to the variousportions of the Empire, and which, if it at once does not go the whole length, will go much further than we have gone and, providing that it works satisfactorily, will guarantee that the ultimate steps will be taken in the future.
Now, I know it is true-we are told so very often that Sir John Macdonald and Sir Charles Tupper opposed Imperial federation. They opposed a good many things that they would not oppose today. And -to have suggested federation in Great Britain thirty years ago would have been regarded as absolutely visionary. And yet there is no doubt at all that in the Mother Country today they are only waiting for the dominions to act. They are ready to provide an Imperial Constitution; give us any authority in the Empire that we may seek, reasonably and fairly; feeling, however, that the movement must proceed from the dominions; it must come from the outside and not from the inside. Because inevitably if the British statesmen at home endeavour to lead this movement, the suspicion would arise, as the critics say, that it was an endeavour to restore Downing Street and to centralize authority at London. And, therefore, I rejoice that the statesmen of Australia today have become practically the leaders of the Imperial movement in the Empire. And at their side at once, in my mind, ought to be ranged the statesmen of Canada. Sir John Macdonald and Sir Charles Tupper, and those who took the view which they took in their day, argued against possibilities which have become practical and absolute facts. If you will look back to what those two statesmen said on the subject of Imperial federation; their great objection-indeed, their whole objection-was that we would be obliged to contribute to the defence of the Empire. And yet today we have near three hundred thousand troops under arms and we have spent $200,000,000 for the common defence of the Empire. And Sir Charles Tupper lived to urge intervention in South Africa and to appeal to Canada to give her whole assistance in the prosecution of the great war in which we are engaged. And who doubts, whether he be Liberal or Conservative, what would be the attitude of Sir John Macdonald if he lived today. Or what would be his attitude if he saw, as he did not see in his time, the prospect of an organic union of the Empire.
It has been finally demonstrated that the people of Canada will bear a full share of the Imperial burden. No government that would resist Imperial sentiment could survive for a week. If we had failed to. assist in this war, we would have been sunk in selfcontempt and have shrivelled between the contempt o,£ other nations. Who would have suggested that in tine of peace we can sing "God Save the King" and boast of our British citizenship and send our trade across the seas under the protection of the British navy and do nothing in time of war ? And the fact that because of the strength of sentiment which prevails throughout this Dominion these things have to be done, we have assumed the burdens, all the burdens that can come with Imperial federation but as yet we have not obtained authority which Imperial federation would give to us. It is said that under federation we would sacrifice Canadian autonomy. The great truth is, as I have tried to show, that under the existing organization of the Empire we have an inferior citizenship and imcomplete autonomy. We talk much about self government. We have never had self government. And I want federation of the Empire because I want self government, complete self government, as much self government as the citizen of any other country enjoys.
What would have been the position if the issues out of which this war came, if the causes which led to this war, which led Great Britain to embark in this war, had been a cause of which Canada could not approve. We are sending hundreds and thousands of soldiers to the war, as I have said, and spending hundreds of millions of money and yet we have no more voice in the making of this war than has the State of New York. And what would have been the positionit is not the fault of anyone; it is a condition of the accidental and haphazard growth of this curious political organization to which we belong. But suppose this had been a war which failed to carry the judgment of the Canadian -poeple, what would be our position today? Could we-think it over, think it aver-could we have remained outside the war and remained inside the British Empire ? I say emphatically no. End if that be true and we desire and intend to remain within the Empire we must have a political organization which will give us a right to say whether war shall come or whether peace. I do not believe that the British Empire should engage in any war which would not have the approval of the dominions. And I am confident that the interest of the dominions will always be peace, and that the power of the British Empire to preserve peace in Europe and in the world would be enormously enhanced under an organic union of British communities. With low much greater authoritv Sir Edward Grey could have spoken in the councils of Europe before the war if the world had understood that he spoke not only for Great Britain but for Canada and Australia and New Zealand and South Africa and India. I believe the moral assurance that the British Empire represented a group of world communities, the moral assurance of peace which that very fact would give, would be far greater than any physical .power which these communities possess. We know now, once and for all, that when Great Britain is attacked Canada is attacked. And when Canada is attacked Great Britain must come to Canada's defence. We are an Empire for offence and defence, whether we admit it or not, and since we must share the danger and bear the cost, why not regularize the Imperial relations and combine the energies and resources of this Empire for its own security, for its own strength and in order to enhance its powers to preserve peace and insure the welfare of others. A good many of the faults and prejudices which have been cherished for generations have been burned up in the fire of this war. What we thought were divine truths have proved to be very ordinary human speculations. We recognize now, or we will recognize the fact if we think it over, whatever were our theories and convictions a few years ago, that if this war had been avoided for another quarter of a century that Germany would have held the commercial supremacy of the earth and could have imposed an authority upon all other nations without a blow by land or sea, because her trade would have been so intertwined, so established in every community, so spread over the earth, that she would have, by strength of her commercial power, an authority in the world which I believe no other nation or any other combination of nations could challenge. The Chamber of Commerce of Great Britain a few years ago declared to the Premier, Mr. Asquith, that it was its firm conviction, based on the experience of the war, that the strength and safety of the Empire lies in ability to produce what it requires from its own soil and its own factories. And there is in the soil and factories, in the natural resources of the established industries of, this Empire, all the material for a self-contained Empire. It is our fault if we don't use them for the benefit of the British people and for the strength of the organization to which, we belong. Alike in trade and defence we require organized co-operation for common objects. Nor is it necessary, as opponents o£ federation contend, that we must have free trade or a common tariff. It is just as easy for every portion of the Empire to maintain its own tariff and to raise its living by what means seems good as it is to have a common tariff or cast-iron system of free trade. Because all theories that a system of federation necessarily destroys individuality in British communities, either in trade or in any other relation, will not stand examination in my judgment.
I remember in the conversation with Mr. Balfourand it is not often I refer to my occasional and incidental relations with distinguished people-I remember discussing the question of tariff reform with Mr. Balfour. He said he saw great difficulties in tariff reform until he saw that it was as simple and natural for Great Britain to have its own tariff as it was for Canada to have its own tariff. And since the existing tariff of Canada in no wise disturbs the Imperial relationship it was wholly unreasonable to conclude that the imposition of a British tariff should in any greater degree disturb the relationship. If the thirteen colonies had not separated from Great Britain where now would be the centre of the British Empire ? _It would be at Washington and not at London.
A century is a short span in the life of a nation. This confederation is only 50 years old, and I suppose some of usindeed I do-I remember the first anniversary of the organization of Canada. In half a century the population of the United States has increased by more than 50,000,000. Twenty-five or thirty years from now this Dominion will have a population of 25,000,000 or 30,000,000 and there will be at least 50,000,000 or 60,000,000 in the outlying dominions. Who sincerely believes that with such a power reposing in the outer dominions that they will be in danger of subjugation by Downing Street or the centralizing agency in London ? For my part, whatever we may argue today, whatever we may think is the immediate outlook, I am as certain as I live'that there are forces at work in the British Empire which will compel federation before we are very much older. At Gallipoli and in France and Flanders we have illustrations of what British citizenship in the outer dominions will sacrifice for the common Empire, and when peace comes we will have a mighty reinforcement of imperialists and of federationists. That for which a man offers his life he will not easily forsake or betray. Those who return from Old World battlefields will be forever the supports of the Empire. And to quote a noble sentence : Who in the cause of country and freedom it pleases Almighty God to take out of this transitory world unto His mercy. What a prospect federation opens to Canada ? We would send representatives to a sovereign Imperial parliament. We would have direct representation in an Imperial gathering. We would fill many positions in worldwide government and diplomatic services. We could co-operate for scientific distribution of population throughout the Empire. Through wise organizations labour exchanges could be established which would keep the British race under the flag. Production and transportation could be so developed as to insure an adequate food supply within the Empire. I know that much of this can be accomplished and is being accomplished without federation. But since under confederation the sovereignty of the dominions over -their own domestic affairs would not be imperilled, while a possible conflict between national and imperial interests would be ended and an equal citizenship .established throughout the Empire, to reject federation is to mock the gods and resist the decree of a beneficent destiny. Nothing is more remarkable in human history than the results that are achieved by long planning and resolute devotion to a single object. At worst, or at most, only a few men in the American colonies aimed at separation or designed to establish a republic. And these were not the most influential of American statesmen. But they had a divine object; they were bold and active; they had a genius for agitation, and they slept not night or day until the seed of their shrewd and furtive sowing ripened for the harvest of disunion and disruption. Unwilling to bear allegiance to the new order a group of men, broken in fortune but unquenched in spirit, active, vigilant and resolute came to Canada, and they and their descendants have been the bulwark of British institutions in this commonwealth. If they lost much they have also held it for throne and Empire. For it is true that through their vigilance and their courage in more than one crisis of Canadian history-British sentiment was decisively expressed and British supremacy decisively maintained. It is just as true in Canada the Imperial sentiment which now pervades the Empire was indeed largely developed, and we cannot avoid the responsibility if we would, and upon the perpetuation of this Imperial spirit in Canada depends the ultimate destiny of the British Empire. I am certain that as you weaken the Imperial sentiment of Canada you weaken the whole Imperial structure, and just so certain as Canada falls away, the dominions fall away and the Empire shrinks to two islands on the Atlantic. There was a time in England when the colonies were regarded as an encumbrance rather than as a source of strength and security. It was the British stock overseas kept the flame of Imperial patriotism burning and revived the spirit and the glory and possibility of Empire in England itself.
Under the Imperial system as now developed, guaranteeing equal political authority over national concerns to all portions of the Empire and inviting equal co-operation for any interests, the union between Great Britain and the thirteen colonies probably would have survived even all the blundering of narrow statesmen in England. If there had been no separation, as I say, the American today would hold a prouder citizenship than any other man in the modern world could possess. And what the American cast away, through causes which need not provoke enmities in this generation, the Canadian, the Australian, the New Zealander, the South African and people of the United Kingdom may have full well if they will hold together and understand that there is no necessary conflict between the interests of the dominions and those of the Mother country: but that in unity and cooperation there is a mighty power to advance all the good ends of civilization, and to insure that British ideals of freedom and justice shall flourish in eternal vigour over all the wide spaces of earth which acknowledge the King's sovereignty.
So I support with all my heart the resolution that has been submitted. I think we ought to keep in mind that great as the problem of this war the problem of reconstruction will be even greater. And chief among the works of reconstruction ought to be a reorganization of the British Empire and its settlement on foundations that will endure to the end of time.
A hearty vote of thanks was passed.