Problems of Empire/Canada

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In August, 1903, Mr. Brassey attended, as a Delegate of the London Chamber, the great Congress of Chambers of Commerce of the Empire at Montreal, over which Lord Brassey presided. The first resolution, which was unanimously passed with great enthusiasm, after it had been modified to meet the objections of the French Canadian Delegates, ran as follows:—

'That this Congress hereby affirms the principle that it is the duty of the self-governing Colonies to participate in the cost of defence of the Empire, but the Colonies claim the privilege of keeping their own initiative as to the nature and mode of help which they may agree to offer.'

The interest of the Congress was mainly concentrated on the question of Preferential Trade within the Empire. After two days' discussion, the following resolution was unanimously agreed to:—

'It is resolved that in the opinion of this Congress the bonds of the British Empire will be materially strengthened, and a union of the various parts of His Majesty's Dominions greatly consolidated, by the adoption of a commercial policy based upon the principle of mutual benefit, whereby each component part of the Empire would receive a substantial advantage in trade as the result of its national relationship, due consideration being given to the fiscal and industrial needs of the component parts of the Empire.

'That this Congress urges upon His Majesty's Government the appointment by them of a special Commission, composed of representatives of Great Britain and her Colonies and India, to consider the possibility of thus increasing and strengthening the trade relations between the different parts of the Empire, and the trading facilities within the Empire and with foreign countries.' At the close of the debate, Mr. Brassey made the following speech:—

At Fifth Congress of Chambers of Commerce of the Empire 9 Montreal, August 1903.

My Lords and Gentlemen,—

I am exceedingly obliged for the kind permission you have accorded me to make a few remarks before the close of this important debate. I felt bound to refuse to second this resolution on behalf of the London Chamber out of regard for my father, with whom unfortunately I do not see eye to eye on the question now before the Congress. I regret that I had to do so the more now that the discussion is coming to a close, because I am as strong as any Canadian in the conviction that some reform in the fiscal policy of the United Kingdom is necessary; and, in the second place, because I feel that some of the most important arguments which might be adduced in favour of a change of policy have barely been alluded to, and others have not even been touched upon in the course of the discussion. I will pass over the decline of the agricultural population in the mother country, and the effect that this is having upon the physique and stamina of the race. I will pass over all that is meant by the fact that during the last ten years of the nineteenth century the balance of imports over exports in the United Kingdom has practically doubled; but I would ask to say a word with regard to Ireland. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the fiscal policy of the United Kingdom was mainly governed by the interests of the people of Great Britain. During the era of Free Trade, while there was an immense advance in the commercial prosperity of Great Britain until the last years of the century, the population of Ireland diminished to onehalf. Mr. Childers, a great Liberal statesman, and Chairman of the Financial Relations Commission at the time of his death, was of the opinion that however beneficial the policy of Free Trade might have been to the people of Great Britain, it was not so as regards Ireland. I believe that when we are considering this great question, we ought not to forget the people of Ireland.

To turn to the resolution and the amendment. I sincerely trust that a solution will be found which will enable this resolution to be carried unanimously. It is possible that some of the English delegates may feel that by assenting to the resolution they may be straining the letter of their instructions. I would ask them to consider whether they will be straining their spirit. In my judgment the situation has been profoundly modified from that existing at the time when we received our instructions, by the resolution passed on Monday last. That resolution recognised the duty of the Colonies to participate in the defence of the Empire. But let me observe in parenthesis that we advocates of Imperial Federation in the mother country do not expect any substantial contribution from the Colonies until we are prepared to give them a voice in the control of Imperial expenditure and Imperial policy. That resolution was adopted unanimously through a considerable sacrifice of opinion on the part of some of our Colonial colleagues. Are we English delegates to make no sacrifice in return? If we refuse to give any consideration to that policy which our Colonial colleagues have so much at heart, this Congress will end in failure; if, on the other hand, a solution can be found agreeable both to the supporters of the resolution and of the amendment, this Congress will end as it began, with a most important step in the direction of Imperial unity, a desire for which has been so common a feature in our discussions, and a cause to which some of us, at any rate, have devoted and intend to devote the best energies of our lives.

The following address was given at the reception to the Canadian Manufacturers' Association in the Parliament Buildings at Toronto on September 16th, 1903:—

I hope that the members of the Canadian Manufacturers' Association will not judge me too harshly if I discuss the Imperial Trade question from the British rather than the Canadian standpoint, and that I may be allowed to make a few preliminary remarks on the subject of Imperial Federation.

Imperial Federation. It is sixteen years ago since I first became associated with Dr Parkin, in the advocacy of Imperial Federation. After travelling through the length and breadth of the British Empire, I came to the conclusion that the Empire could only remain united by the recognition of two principles—first, that every part of the Empire has a right to manage its own internal affairs; and, second, that each part has the right to a voice in the control of Imperial expenditure and Imperial policy, subject to the condition that it bears its fair share of Imperial burdens.

For some years I have thought that the burden of defending the Empire was becoming too heavy for the taxpayers of the mother country alone. Russia, Germany, France, and the United States—rival nations—have all been bending their efforts to build up their naval strength. England must keep pace with them or lose the command of the sea. To provide funds for the increase of the Navy, additional taxation has been imposed. The estate duties, for instance, imposed by Sir William Harcourt, press very heavily on a particular class. Many people have been taxed out of their homes. The maintenance of the British Navy is of the greatest importance to Canada; for if the command of the sea be lost she could not, in time of war, send her 125,000,000 dollars' worth of exports to the mother country. Is it not fair, then, that she should contribute to its support? We in the mother country do not expect Canada, however, to contribute to the support of the Navy till she is given a voice in the control of Imperial affairs. To provide for Colonial representation under our present constitutional arrangements is very difficult, if not impossible. While every Canadian is subject to three Legislatures—the Provincial Parliament, the Dominion Parliament, and the Imperial Parliament, in which at present he is not represented, we in the old country have only one Parliament—to deal with the business of the Empire, questions affecting the United Kingdom as a whole—such as would be dealt with in Canada by the Dominion Parliament and the special interests of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, which here would be under the control of your Provincial Parliaments. It is admitted on all hands that Parliamentary government is breaking down beneath the load. Our task, therefore, is to rid the Imperial Parliament of all local business by the establishment of subordinate legislatures in the several countries of the United Kingdom, and when that is done, the way will be clear for Colonial representation. Other parts of the Empire, too, have each their particular task to perform before they will be in a position to consider any practical proposal for Imperial Federation. Australia has to get her Federal Constitution into working order, and South Africa has to federate her own Provinces. Meanwhile you Canadians, who already possess a Federal Constitution such as I desire to see established in the United Kingdom, can devote your efforts to building up your own country.

Tariff Reform.  To turn to the question in which we are more immediately interested, the policy put before the country by Mr. Chamberlain. This question may be regarded from two aspects. In the first place, there is the standpoint of retaliation—or, in other words, the necessity of preventing Great Britain from becoming the dumping-ground for American and German manufactures. I do not think there will be much dispute as to the necessity of taking steps to meet this evil. Second, there is the question of preferential trade within the Empire, and here I get on more difficult ground.

It would, of course, be idle to discuss any scheme for an Imperial preferential tariff unless the people of the old country are prepared to put a tax on foreign wheat and meat, for the benefit of Canadian and Australian producers. Mr. Chamberlain's policy aims to do this, and at the same time not to increase the cost of living to the people. He proposes to substitute for taxes on commodities which the old country cannot produce—such as tea, coffee, &c.—taxes on wheat and other agricultural products which she can herself raise. The result, he believes, will be an equal amount of revenue without increasing the burden on the consumer. One effect of Mr. Chamberlain's policy will be to divert the stream of emigration into the Colonies from the United States or the Argentine Republic. What, Mr. Ross, would have been the population of Canada today if that policy had been inaugurated twenty years ago?

Mr. Ross: Twenty millions.

Mr. Brassey: Yes, sir, I believe you are right. Will not your population increase much faster in the next ten years if this policy is adopted than if it is not?

I come now to the thorny part of my subject. If this policy is to be carried through, we who are advocating it at home will have to give a good answer to those who will ask us: What are the Colonies going to give in return for the benefits they receive from the imposition of the tax on food-stuffs? Two answers can be given. The first is contained in a resolution, introduced by Mr. George E. Drummond at the Congress of Chambers of Commerce at Montreal, to the effect that it was the duty of the Colonies to participate in the defence of the Empire. I ask those Canadians who are clamouring for us to send you our capital and the best of our workpeople for the development of Canadian industries to remember that, if the Colonial and British taxpayers stood shoulder to shoulder, sharing the burdens of Imperial defence, it would not matter, from an Imperial point of view, where a cotton mill existed, whether in Toronto or Manchester. But as long as nearly the whole burden falls on the profits of the British mill, it is not to the interest of the British taxpayer that the mill in Manchester should be closed by the establishment of the mill in Toronto. For the reason already given we cannot now expect the Colonies to make any substantial direct contribution in money to the defence of the Empire.

The Canadian Preference. The second answer to the question is that the Colonies are prepared to give an effective preference in their own markets to the products of the mother country. To-night your Premier, Mr. Ross, spoke of the desire that the sentiment in favour of the 'Made in Canada' policy should prevail, and that it should be your ambition to supply the wants of the Canadian market. Here is where the difficulty lies.

Now, if this is the desire of the Canadian manufacturers, and the Canadian Government should wish to carry out that desire at the expense of the manufacturer in the mother country, then, in my opinion, there is no basis for a policy of preferential trade within the Empire. The justification for a tax on food-stuffs is that the Colonies will take a larger proportion than they do now of British products. You import at present from the United States and other countries 18,000,000l. worth of goods. 18,000,000l. is not a very large amount in a total export trade of 350,000,000l. Unless the mother country is able to secure a large portion of the trade you now carry on with foreign countries, as well as supply to a considerable extent the needs of the great population which is bound to be created by the adoption of an Imperial preference, there is really no solid answer to the question, 'What will the Colonies do in return?'

This view and the view of the Canadian manufacturers may appear to be diametrically opposed. I believe, however, that a solution will be arrived at as a result of mutual concessions and the free interchange of opinions. Nothing has struck me more forcibly in my tour through Canada than the friendly feeling towards the mother country. Sentiment, however, is not everything. A large number of people are pouring into the North-west who are not of British origin. They are satisfied with Canadian institutions, but there is no reason why they should be loyal to the British connection. It is vital to the future unity of the Empire that these farmers should realise that there is a material benefit from living under the British flag, and this is only to be brought about by such a policy as Mr. Chamberlain's.

My remarks may not meet with the approval of many here, but I offer them for your serious consideration. I believe that the unity of the Empire will be preserved, and Mr. Chamberlain's policy can be carried out by a free and honest exchange of opinion between the mother country and the Colonies. No one who has travelled as I have through Canada this fall can go home with any other conviction than that the prospects of Canadian development are sufficient to afford room for both the Canadian and British manufacturers.