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Banner: First Among EqualsWilfrid Laurier

Speech before the House of Commons, March 7, 1911

Sir Wilfrid Laurier (Prime Minister): Mr. Chairman, it is now a full month and more since my hon. friend the Minister of Finance (Mr. Fielding) laid upon the table of the House the agreement which he and my hon. friend and colleague the Minister of Customs (Mr. Paterson) had concluded with the President of the United States, for the improvement of the commercial relations which have long existed between us and our neighbours. From that date to this that agreement has been reviewed, discussed and canvassed, in the press of the country, in meetings of public bodies, and in parliament and unless I greatly misapprehend the trend of public opinion, unless I fail to read aright the signs of the times, I think I can venture the assertion that the policy which is therein involved has met with the approbation, nay, with the enthusiastic approbation, of a majority of the Canadian people.

Some hon. MEMBERS: Oh, oh. Hear, hear.

Sir WILFRID LAURIER: Against this statement of mine I understand that I hear some protest. I shall not stop, Mr. Chairman, to discuss the merits of the respective opinions on that point which we on this side and our friends on the other side of the House entertain. No word of mine, I am sure, would change their views, and I know full well that they will persevere in their views until the evening of the next polling day. I am perfectly aware that the policy has not been universally accepted that it has met in some quarters, and I may say rather unexpected quarters, rather stubborn opposition. It is a well known fact that at present an organization has been created in the cities of Montreal and Toronto for the purpose of fighting this agreement. To this I have no objection to take, those who do this are perfectly within their rights. Neither will I underestimate the importance of the men who have placed themselves at the head of it. But even whilst fully recognizing the importance of that movement, I do not think there is any serious cause for alarm General Grant in his Memoirs narrates that during the Mexican war he was in the army of the United States as a young lieutenant. He was riding towards the front in company with a friend, when all of a sudden they heard in front of them a most unearthly howling of wolves. His friend asked him how many he thought there were in the pack, and not wishing to exaggerate he said he thought there were in the pack, and not wishing to exaggerate he said he thought there must be at least 20. His friend smiled and said nothing. In a few minutes they came in sight of the wolves and there were just two, which had made all that noise. General Grant observes that he thought of this incident in after life, when he heard the noise made by some disappointed men, and he adds they were always more numerous before they were counted. I believe that what is true of the United States is also true of this country. Of the objections that we have heard to this agreement some there are which seem to me to lack singularly in force or oppositeness others on the contrary are worthy of consideration, not from any inherent strength, but form the circumstances that they are inspired by a strange misconception as to what would be the result and the consequence of the agreement which is now before us. The wonder to me is that there should be any objections at all. Who can deny that we have now reached a stage in our relations with our neighbors which all parties in this House have been seeking for the last 40 years? Who can deny that if, 40 years ago, in the early days of this confederation, if 30 years ago, or 20 years ago, or even 14 years ago, when we took office, it had been possible to obtain such an abatement in the American tariff as is embodied in this agreement there should have been universal rejoicing in this country. The fact, Sir, cannot be denied, the evidence of it is to be found in this that the two parties into which the people of this country are divided, apart on all other questions, were always agreed in the opinion that the relations which existed between us and our neighbours were a blot on our common civilization. There is further proof in this that these two parties in succession, wore a good deal of shoe leather travailing from Ottawa to Washington in order to obtain, if possible, an improvement in these relations. Still better evidence is to be found in this that when Sir John Macdonald introduced the National Policy in 1878 in this House he did it as a means to an end, with a view of obtaining ultimately reciprocity of trade with our neighbours. The other day I listened with pleasure to my hon. friend the member for Peel (Mr. Blain) narrating the manner en which the National Policy had been brought into the world. He dilated upon everything, he stated everything except this thing, the last of all, that this was, in the mind of Sir John Macdonald, to be a means to the end of obtaining reciprocity of trade which up to that time had been denied to us. My hon. friend's memory was short upon this, the memory his friends is also short and perhaps it would not be amiss if I read him and his friends the motion of Sir John A. Macdonald, if only to show him the immensity of the distance which now separates him that party and its leaders of that day. This was Sir John Macdonald's motion:

That this House is of opinion that the welfare of Canada requires the adoption of a national policy, which, by a judicious readjustment of the tariff, will benefit and foster the agricultural, the mining, the manufacturing and other interests of the Dominion; that such a policy will retain in Canada thousands of our fellow countrymen now obliged to expatriate themselves in search of the employment denied them at home; that it will restore prosperity to our struggling industries, now so hardly depressed, will prevent Canada from being made a sacrifice market, will encourage and develop an active interprovincial trade and moving  --  as it ought to do  --  in the direction of reciprocity of tariffs with our neighbours, so far as the varied interests of Canada may demand, will greatly tend to procure for this country, eventually, a reciprocity of trade.

Here was the policy laid down by the party in 1878 and carried into effect the following year, in 1879, when the Conservative party has been placed in the office upon that very identical policy. In the Act bringing that policy into effect, section 6, of the Tariff Act, 1879, was embodied the following permanent offer of reciprocity:

Any or all of the following articles, that is to say: animals of all kinds, green fruit, hay, straw, bran, seeds of all kinds, vegetables (including potatoes and other roots). Plants, trees and shrubs, coal and coke, salt, hops, wheat, peas and beans, barley, rye, oats. Indian corn, buckwheat and all other grain, butter, cheese, fish (salted or smoked), lard, tallow, meats (fresh, salted or smoked), and lumber, may be imported into Canada, free of duty or at a less rate of duty than is provided by this Act, upon proclamation of the Governor in Council, which may be issued whenever it appears to his satisfaction that similar articles from Canada may be imported into the United States free of duty.

That was in 1879, and we are now in 1911. And what was sought for in 1879 we may now have, and yet men there are who doubt and hesitate and falter and who would erase thirty years of our past history from the book. Pages after pages could be quoted from speeches delivered by members of the Conservative party in which the American tariff was denounced as unjust, as unfair, as hostile, and now that it is in our power to remove the injustice, the unfairness, and the hostility, men there are who rise against us and tell us: Stop, proceed no further, let the injustice remain, let the hostility remain because upon injustice and hostility the Canadian confederation depends for its existence.

But, again, I ask, what is the cause of the change of attitude which we see on the other side of the House? That cause cannot but be flattering to this government. The only reason given is that Canada today is prosperous as she never was before, if Canada were still in the position in which we found it when we took office in 1896, with its vast fertile lands still unoccupied and untilled, with its natural resources dormant as they had been since the early days of creation, with its transportation facilities still in the most rudimentary stage, with industry stagnant, with agriculture unremunerative  --  were Canada still in that position, I have no doubt that today the policy we are proposing would be receive with favour and the air would resound with paeans of exultation. But instead of being in that condition the country is prosperous, extraordinarily prosperous, and we are told by hon. gentlemen opposite: Do not go any further, fold your arms and let well enough alone. Well, what is this country? What are we?

But we shall go on with our policy. Our policy is advance, and if it be wrong we shall submit willingly to the judgment of the Canadian people, and to the punishment which ought to be given every man who brings in a wrong policy. But this is our policy. Our policy has been, is and will be, so long as the Canadian people continue to place in us the confidence they have shown us during 15 years and that policy is to seek markets wherever markets are to be found. We are above all an agricultural people, our chief wealth is the growth of these products of the temperate zone, fruits, cereals and vegetables, and it is our boast  --  not an idle boast, but a boast founded on actual experience  --  that in cereals, vegetables and fruits we can, without exaggeration, beat the world.

At the northern extremity of the temperate zone, our cereals have more strength, our fruit has better flavour, our vegetables have more delicacy than similar productions from other parts of the world and under free competition, not barred in any way by tariff legislation, they will displace all other products on the tables of the wealthy. Our object today is to open the door of the American market, to open the door of a nation of 90,000,000, which has been closed to us for the last 50 years, and when we are now on the eve of reaching that long sought goal, we are met by objection after objection, we are deluged by a plethora of sophistry, we are told that if such an arrangement is to go into effect and Canadian vegetables, cereals and fruits, can cross the boundary line and be eaten free of duty by the American people it will be all over with the Canadian confederation, and even the British Empire will reel and rock upon its foundations.

I stated a moment ago that the agreement we made is simply to get better prices for the product of the Canadian farmers. This is a proposition so obvious that I am surprised it should have received the treatment it has received on the part of our friends opposite. But the objections made to this agreement are not to be found within the four corners of the same; they are all based upon extraneous grounds. The opposition, the Conservative party, are against this agreement because, as they tell us, it will produce consequences which will be deplorable for this country  --  I have listened with some care to nearly all the speeches that have been delivered in this House on this question, and those which I had not the opportunity to hear, I have read with equal care; and I think I am fair in stating that the objections made to this arrangement are fourfold. The first objection is that the effect will be to deflect the carrying trade from Canadian channels to American channels. The second is that it will destroy our natural resources. The third is that it will imperil our industries. And the fourth  --  and certainly not the least  --  is that it will dissolve our autonomy and land us ultimately in the American Republic. I think I have there fairly stated what are the objections of hon. gentlemen on the other side; and the House will perhaps permit me to discuss them. Let us take the first  --  the objection that this arrangement is going to deflect trade from Canadian channels into American channels. This question is to be discussed from two points of view of the goods going from Canada into the United States for the purpose of being carried over to Great Britain, and goods going from Canada to the United States for consumption therein. Now, regarding the first, those goods sent from Canada to the United States, to be carried to Great Britain, in what way does this arrangement undo the system now in existence? It does not affect it one iota At the present time, goods go from Canada to be shipped from Boston, New York, or any American port without paying duty. In the same way American goods come to Canada to be shipped out by Montreal, Halifax or St. John without paying duty. A cargo wheat can leave Winnipeg for New York, and there be discharged and put on board ship without duty being demanded. A cargo of grain can leave Minneapolis to be taken to Montreal and shipped thence without paying duty. This is by virtue of the bondage privilege which has been given by each government to the other, for the purpose of transportation. It has been in existence for something like sixty years, and I have never heard a complaint that it was unfair to one party or to the other. There was a time when I felt nervous on reflecting that the bonding privilege was simply an act of good will on the part of the United Stated towards us. That was the time when we had no communication of our own to the sea. But now that we have a continuous communication on Canadian soil from sea to sea, we feel that the United States can remove the boding privilege any time they please, and if they do so they will suffer more than we shall, But, Sir, our condition in that respect is absolutely safe, whether this treaty passes or not.

Another objection which has been taken to this agreement is that it will destroy our natural resources. My hon. friend from North Toronto was particularly indignant on this point. He grew eloquent and asked us what we meant by establishing a Conservation Commission for the preservation of our natural resources and then proceeding with ruthless hands to destroy their work. I have to say to my hon. friend that the Commission for the preservation of our natural resources was intended to deal not at all with questions of political economy, but with question of physical science. My hon. friend told us that we should preserve our natural resources for our children and for our children's children; but I ask my hon. friend, what is the object of these natural resources? Soil, water, forests, minerals, gave been given to man by the Creator for the use of man, and all civilized nations have acted accordingly. Why did our ancestors leave their respective lands and come to this country and take it from the Indians if it was not for the purpose of taking gold of the natural resources of the country and using them for their benefit? The Indians were man after the heart of my hon. friend from North Toronto  --  they were great preservers of natural resources. They kept them not for themselves, bur for their children and the children of their children. They never used them to any great extent. The territory they inhabited contained many minerals; but when our ancestors came here they found the Indians using implements made of bone and stone. They never cultivated the soil; they lived on fish and game. They were in the midst of immense forests, but they never felled a tree to build a house. They lived beside the most noble streams in the world, but they did not use them to turn a wheel; they never even used water to wash. They were people after the heart of my hon. friend from North Toronto. Our ancestors who came here came to enjoy the natural resources of the land. Unfortunately, they not only used, but also abused them. It is the reproach of the while settler that if he has used these natural resources, he has been imprudent, and has destroyed them much more wantonly than he destroyed them much more wantonly than he has consumed them for his own benefit. It is charged today against the Canadian farmer that he is not cultivating the soil, but mining it, and taking all the fertility out of it. It is charged against the Canadian lumberman that he is not only cropping the lumber, as he should, but in his operations, is destroying much more than he uses. I think it is admitted that in this valley of the Ottawa, where timber than they have ever carried away. Sir, the object of the Conservation Commission is simply to instruct the farmers, the lumbermen, and others, how to use the natural resources of the country. But if that be the case, the Commission, which is ably presided over by my hon. friend from Brandon, will do an immense service in showing all our people how to use these resources with prudence, so that they will be preserved for our children and our children's children.

But, Sir, what has this to do with this agreement? My hon. friend says that our resources will be taken by the Americans. Well, the Americans will take them if they pay for them; but whether they take them or not, whether this agreement goes into force or not, the natural resources of the country will be made use of, and I hope in a more prudent manner than they are at the present time. My hon. friend from North Toronto need have no further apprehension on that point.

I pass to a more important objection, really the only objection of any consequence that I know of. The objection is that this agreement will imperil our industries. How will it imperil our industries? This agreement is concerned chiefly with natural products. There are no manufactured products dealt with in it, except agricultural implements. In negotiation this agreement we have adhered strictly to the terms of the resolution which was adopted at the Liberal Convention of 1893, in which the Liberal party declared for a treaty of reciprocity in natural products and a carefully-considered list of manufactured products. Why did we put this restriction in our resolution? Why did we state in so many words that the reciprocity which we would negotiate, if it ever became our lot to do so, would be general for natural products, and would be confined to a carefully prepared list of manufactured products? Because, Sir, there is a vast difference between reciprocity in natural products and reciprocity in manufactured goods. This is the reason we have acted with this prudence. I was not present al the Conference which took place between my two friends beside me and Mr. Knox; but it is not a great effort of imagination to suppose that the Americans were far more concerned about obtaining reciprocity in manufactured products than in natural products; but our negotiators would not consent to any reciprocity in manufactured products, but insisted on limiting the agreement simply to such manufactured products as agricultural implements.

Well, we limited our negotiations to that; and in doing this, I know that we have not gone as far as certain sections of the community wanted us to go. A certain section wanted free implements altogether, but we did not think it prudent or advisable to go that far. And why? The reason is that the men on the treasury benches, who are responsible, recognize in tariff matters the wide difference between manufactured and natural products. It is easy enough to put up a customs duty or enact a protective duty, but it is always a difficult task to decrease or remove such a duty. The reason is well known. It is obvious that if you raise the customs duty or impose a protective duty you create at once a fictitious economical atmosphere; and if the industries established under the tariff and under that temperature and condition, have to face suddenly a removal of the duty, you might annihilate in the course of one night millions of capital and reduce to non-employment thousands of operatives. That is why we have acted as we have done. We have gone very cautiously, with great care into this agreement. When we came into office in 1896, we had the same problem before us, the same consideration weighed upon us, and we tool the utmost possible precaution  --  whilst giving as we were bound to do, to the consuming public an abatement of the tariff-we took every precaution in so doing not to injure any existing industry, and I think we have been successful.

Some hon. MEMBERS: Hear, hear.

Sir WILFRID LAURIER: Although it was part of our policy to obtain reciprocity industry. The only industry affected is fully in so doing and have not injured any with the United States, we have acted care that of agricultural implements, in some of which the duty has been reduced from 17 ½ per cent to 15 and on other from 20 per cent to 15 per cent. It would have been pleasing to myself at all events to have gone beyond that, but we considered that if we did, we would perhaps not do justice to the large number who have invested money in these establishments.

This government does not exist for the farmers alone or the manufacturers alone on for any one class, but for the manufacturers and farmers and for all the classes which compose our nation.

Some hon. MEMBERS: Hear, hear.

Sir WILFRID LAURIER: I do not admit that there should be any antagonism between class and class. I do not admit that there should be any antagonism between the manufacturer and the farmer. The manufacturer is the best friend of the farmer, and the farmer is the best friend of the manufacturer. Let them walk hand in hand, let each profit by the trade of the other; but so far as we are concerned, for 14 years we have administered the government of this country on these lines, trying to do away with collisions between class and class trying to keep all abreast of one another keeping always in mind the motto: Freedom for all and privileges for none. That has been our policy and that policy we shall continue. There are men who believe that we are going to reckelssly ruin industry and capital. Capital is timid under all circumstances and the man who is at the head of affairs and the ministers who assist him, would not be worthy of the public confidence if they were not always careful to see that capital will be safe, whenever it is invested in any industry in this country.

Sir, the Tories of fifty years ago were made of sterner stuff. In 1854, the treaty which was negotiated by Lord Elgin, with Francis Hincks as his Prime Minister, resulted in immediate prosperity. Ten years afterwards the treaty was repealed, and a high protective tariff substituted for it. At that time, did Canadians falter? Did they hesitate? Were they forced into closer relations with the United States? Did they seek a refuge in political union? No, in the face of that action they conceived and organized the Canadian confederation.

Away with this timorous advice of fainthearted men, we stand by the example of our stout-hearted men of fifty years ago. Reviewing the situation as it is placed before us, far from sharing the forebodings, uttered concerning what is to follow the application, not of a new principle but of an old policy, it seems to me there are evidences not a few that we are now entering upon a new era in our relations with our neighbours, that we can see already whitening on the horizon the dawn of a brighter day. One thing is certain, one thing cannot be denied, that the relations which have existed between the two countries for the last fifty years, especially for the last twenty years, still more for the last twelve years, and which almost came to a crisis a year ago  --  those relations have been a blot upon the civilization of the two countries. They have amounted practically to a proclamation of noncommercial intercourse between the two countries, so far as legislation could brign this about. Another thing cannot be denied, that the man who raised the Conservative party to the highest pitch of power and influence, the man whose name is still revered, though his example is not followed Sir John A. Macdonald, deprecated and dreaded that situation. He did all that man could do to change it and improve it. To that end he made many sacrifices and to that end he made his last appeal to the Canadian people.

One other thing cannot be denied, that at this moment, amongst the thoughtful men of the American union, the feeling is growing up that the policy which they have pursued towards us for the last fifty years has been wrong, that it has been injurious to themselves as well as to us, that it is selfish and narrow; and they are prepared to retrace their steps and to enter with us into a mutually profitable commercial intercourse. Now, when we reach that stage, it is inconceivable that this retrograde policy, long followed by the United States and which they are now on the eve of abandoning, should become the Canadian policy, and that we should follow a policy of non-commercial intercourse with them. It is incredible, and yet we have heard that idea proclaimed again and again in this House. We are told that unless this retrograde policy is maintained Canada is exposed to danger, and we are threatened that unless this policy of non-intercourse is maintained we are doomed to annexation. Annexation! Annexation! Once upon a time there was a very strong annexationist movement in this country, and it received its first check when Lord Elgin brought back from Washington the reciprocity treaty of 1856. From date day to this the desire for annexation has dwindled and swindled, until there is not a vestige of it left in any part of this country.

Once upon a time  --  this is also a matter of history  --  the Canadian confederation should become a part of the American union. Recent events have shown that there are still men in the United States who harbour that hope. But there are also men who are beginning to perceive that the republic, though its career has been glorious, has yet many questions to solve and many dangers to face; and many of them are beginning to recognize that the solution of their difficult problems would be seriously complicated, perhaps fatally impaired, if, in the territory of the republic, was to be included another territory as large as their own, with a people not yet as numerous, but destined to be as numerous as their own, with problems of their won also to solve, and whose union with the United Stated would only add to the complications which the American people have to meet. If my poor voice could be heard throughout the length and breadth of this country, and if, without any presumption, it could be heard also beyond the frontier, I would say to our American neighbours: flattering as may be to your pride, the idea that the territory of the republic should extend over the whole continent form the waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the waters of the Arctic Ocean, remember that we Canadian were born under the flag of your ancestors, a flag under which perhaps you may have suffered some oppression, but which to us has been, and is more than ever, the emblem of freedom. Remember that if you have founded a nation upon separation from the motherland, we Canadians have set our hearts upon building up a nation without separation; remember that in this task we are already far advanced, that with our institutions, with our national entity as a people, and with everything that constitutes our national home we are just as devoted as you are to yours. Remember that the blood which flows in our veins is just as good as your own, and that if you are a proud people, though we have not your numbers, we are just as proud as you are, and that, rather than part with our national existence, we would part with our lives. If my voice could be beard that far, I would presume to say to our American friends: There may be a spectacle perhaps nobler yet than the spectacle of a united continent, a spectacle which would astound the world by its novelty and grandeur, the spectacle of two peoples living side along a frontier nearly 4,000 miles long, with not a cannon, with not a gun frowning across it, with not a fortress on either side, with no armament one against the other, but living in harmony, in mutual confidence, and with no other rivalry than a generous emulation in commerce and the arts of peace. To the Canadian people I would say that if it were possible for us to obtain such relations between this young and growing nation and the powerful American republic. Canada will have rendered to old England the mother of nations, nay, to the whose British Empire, a service unequalled in its present effect, and still more in its far-reaching consequences.

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Source: Canada. Parliament. House of Commons. Debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada. 12th Parliament, 3rd Session (February 21, 1911: March 22, 1911). Ottawa: C.H. Parmelee, 1911. Pages 4740-4824.


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