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Sir John A MacDonald
A long Lease of Power, 1878 to 1891


THE last chapters have dealt separately with the most important of the lines of policy carried out by Macdonald after his restoration to power in 1878. From that time to his death in 1891 he held the premiership of the Dominion, and was, as no man had ever been before, or has been since, the determining force in the administration of the government and the development of the country. His countrymen, once having forgiven his greatest political fault, restored to him and renewed again and again a confidence almost unique in the history of constitutional government. During these thirteen years there were three general elections, in 1882, 1887 and 1891. Twice in that time the Liberal party changed its leadership in the effort to strengthen its position and make headway against him. Mr. Mackenzie made way for Edward Blake in 1880, and on the resignation of the latter in 1887, Mr. (now Sir Wilfrid) Laurier succeeded to the difficult post.

Change of policy, it must be said, was tried by the Liberals as well as change of leaders. Commercial union with the United States was brought forward as an alternative for the system of protection which was the note of Macdonald's National Policy, and for a time the new cry seemed likely to catch the popular ear. Later, "unrestricted reciprocity " was adopted as a term less repugnant to Canadian sentiment. But change of leader and change of policy alike failed to displace the veteran of so many political fights, the skilful wielder of so many kinds of influence. Macdonald's name had become one to conjure with, and so long as he lived the Conservative party maintained an unbroken, though perhaps not wholly unshaken, hold on the country. This was due partly to the extraordinary affection and devotion that he inspired among his followers in parliament and the country; partly to his own consummate political strategy. Still more may it be attributed, there can be no reasonable doubt, to the fact that the country at large credited him with a deeper and truer insight into its real needs and aspirations than was ascribed to his opponents. The course of events since that time may be said to have amply justified this opinion. All the greater lines of policy which he initiated or directed have become fixed in the Canadian system. Protection to native industries—the so-called National Policy—was adopted in all its main features by the Liberal party on its accession to power in 1896, and has since been maintained with the minimum of dissent from any quarter. The Canadian Pacific Railway, once vigorously denounced as likely to bring the country to ruin, has proved not merely one of the most successful of business ventures, an instrument of the first importance for the consolidation of the Dominion and an inspiration to the national life, but it has also been the parent of other vast enterprises looking in like manner to the development of the interior of the continent. The policy which he advocated both in England and Canada, of welding the whole empire together by preferential trade, has steadily grown, has been adopted by most of the greater colonies, has been put into actual practice by the Liberal party of Canada, and, in spite of serious obstacles arising from the commercial system of the mother country, seems to be making headway there also.

The main basis of his power, therefore, and of the hold which he retained for so long a time upon the confidence of the Canadian people must unquestionably be considered to have lain in his solid qualities as a statesman, his sound judgment in dealing with the present, and foresight in regard to the future. But these qualities, which fix a statesman's place in history, would scarcely have carried him successfully through his long administrative career had they not been supplemented by others equally rare: keen insight into human nature—a singular capacity for the management of men—skill in parliamentary tactics—naturally high spirits which made light of difficulties—fertility of resource in dealing with them when they arose, and a personal liking for the political game, however perplexing and complicated it might become. No one knew so well as he the truth of his own saying that "Canada is a hard country to govern." When we remember that his cabinets, selected with a view to the representation of all important interests, contained Liberals and Conservatives—men not only of British and French birth, but with British and French prejudices—Roman Catholics and Orangemen—advocates of Irish Home Rule and keen opponents of that measure—men from provinces thousands of miles apart and with widely divergent interests—it is impossible not to admire the skill with which he drew and held them together in the early days of Confederation, before the national sentiment of Canada had as yet been consolidated.

That he did not fear to have strong men around him was amply proved in the selections made for his earlier cabinets. If this was not so apparent in some of his later ministries the fault may have lain, not so much in any fear of strong colleagues, as in the lack of material on which to draw. It must be remembered that he was bound to make his cabinets represent not only different provinces, but also different interests, so that his field of choice was often extremely limited. "Let the country give me good material," he used to say, "and I will give you strong cabinets." Indeed no small part of his success was due to the care he used in selecting colleagues of ability and in giving each an adequate opportunity for the exercise of his special talents. So, also, the devotion felt towards him by his followers sprang largely from his loyalty to them through the many vicissitudes of political life, and the recognition which he was always ready to give to meritorious service. No doubt the strongest of the men who came around him when Confederation was established had already been marked out by public opinion in their different provinces as natural leaders. But it was the most signal proof of Macdonald's ruling ability that the leadership assigned to him in 1867 among this group of powerful men was at no time questioned and was steadily maintained and confirmed in the long series of succeeding years.

Of the men who assisted Macdonald in working out the confederation of Canada and securing the large results which flowed from that epoch-making measure, three at least demand special mention in any biography of their leader, however brief, both for the weight which they brought to his councils, the length and importance of their service, and the loyalty of their allegiance throughout life to himself and to the national ideals which he and they held in common.

Circumstances had drawn him at an early period into close alliance with Georges Etienne Cartier, and it was the cooperation of the two men which for years made the government of the country possible in the difficult period before Confederation. Cartier was a typical French-Canadian, and commanded, as no other man of his generation, the confidence of his compatriots. In his impetuous youth he had joined in the rebellion of 1837, and after the defeat of the rebels he fled with Papineau to the United States. He returned under the general amnesty of 1839, and from that time forward sought to maintain the rights and forward the interests of his people by strictly constitutional means. Attracted by the largeness of spirit and the readiness for conciliation and compromise which he found in Macdonald, he formed with him a political alliance based on equal consideration for the rightful claims of both nationalities. The key to Canadian politics for many a year rested in the fact that the French-Canadians trusted Cartier, and Cartier trusted Macdonald. This alliance, strengthened as time went on by sincere personal friendship, lasted through all the anxious years that led up to Confederation. It was through Cartier that Macdonald so long retained his hold on Quebec. Without Cartier's loyal help it would scarcely have been possible, when the effort for union came, to allay the anxieties of French-Canadians lest they should be swallowed up and their individuality be lost in the large proposed confederacy, plainly destined in the course of time to be preponderantly British.

One shadow, it must be acknowledged, did come at last to mar for a time the friendship which had so long existed between the two men. When Confederation had become an accomplished fact, and the sovereign wished to recognize the labours of the men who had brought it about, Macdonald was made a K.C.B., while only a C.B. was assigned to Cartier and the other leading delegates. To Cartier this was a stinging disappointment, conscious as he was of having performed the most conspicuous and difficult feat of all in having by his personal address and influence won over to the support of Confederation a timorous and reluctant province, which might have proved hopelessly obstructive. He felt it also, no doubt, as a slur upon the French race whose chief representative he was, and whose equality with their English-speaking fellow-subjects was a principle on which no shadow of doubt could be allowed to rest. He blamed Macdonald for the discrimination, though apparently it was entirely due to the action of the imperial authorities, as no intimation had previously been given of Her Majesty's intention to any of the recipients of honours. The mistake was remedied in the following year, when, doubtless on Macdonald's recommendation, Cartier was created a baronet of the United Kingdom, a dignity higher than that assigned to Sir John himself. The correspondence of later years shows that complete cordiality was restored between the old friends. When Cartier was defeated in the election of 1872, in Montreal East, an event which hastened his end, Macdonald wrote to Lord Lisgar: "I do not anticipate that he will live a year, and with all his faults, or, rather, with all his little eccentricities, he will not leave so good a Frenchman behind him —certainly not one who can fill his place in public life. I cannot tell you how I sorrow at this. We have acted together since 1854, and never had a serious difference."

Macdonald at once found a new and safe seat for his defeated colleague. Cartier went to England in the autumn of 1872, in the hope of having his health restored, but died there in 1873, before the crash of the Pacific scandal, for which he was in no small measure responsible. To the last the two old colleagues were in the most intimate and friendly correspondence. "Cartier was as bold as a lion. He was just the man I wanted. But for him Confederation could not have been carried." Such was the tribute Macdonald paid to him on the day when he unveiled the statue of his friend at Ottawa.

The Maritime Provinces, fruitful in vigorous political thinkers, contributed for Macdonald's assistance two men of altogether exceptional ability. Charles Tupper was not included in the first Dominion cabinet for reasons which have been mentioned; but, once in office, became the most powerful of the colleagues who helped Macdonald to carry out his large schemes of constructive statesmanship. He and Macdonald first met at the Quebec conference, when the latter at once recognized in the Nova Scotian leader the qualities which, having placed him at the head of affairs in his own province, were destined to make him a power in the larger field of Dominion politics. The recognition of strength and common purpose was mutual; and before the conference had broken up the two men had made an informal alliance, which was strictly adhered to through all the vicissitudes of the coming years.

Never was Macdonald's intuitive capacity for discovering the essential man for the work that had to be done, exercised more intelligently than in this case. In the reconciliation of Nova Scotia to Confederation, in carrying out a great, expensive and hazardous railway policy, in the establishment of a national fiscal system, in making Canadian expansion compatible with complete allegiance to the empire, the aid which Macdonald received from Sir Charles Tupper can scarcely be exaggerated. In him great natural ability and power as a platform speaker were united with a splendid optimism about his country, a courage that feared nothing, and a resoluteness of purpose which despised any obstacle with which he could be confronted.

If Macdonald looked upon Cartier as an essential factor in effecting Confederation, he would probably have felt no less strongly in reference to the part which Tupper played in carrying out the great railway policy which confirmed and completed the work of union. The speeches by which he defended that policy—the forecasts which he made of north-western development—were at the time ridiculed by the Liberal party in parliament and the Liberal press in the country as exaggerated and absurd. Though the fulfilment of his prophecies was somewhat delayed, he has lived to see his critics put to confusion by the ample justification of his high hopes which time and events have brought about. It is only fair to say that he has also received the frank apology and recantation of more than one great organ of public opinion which once denounced his projects as visionary and fraught with ruin to the country.

Of scarcely less influence in moulding the early history of the Dominion was Samuel Leonard Tilley, who at first took his seat in the cabinet as minister of customs, and later for many years was minister of finance. Previous to Confederation he had long been the foremost figure in the public life of New Brunswick, and it was his weight of character and tenacity of purpose which more than anything else determined that wavering province to commit itself finally to the scheme. Ability in administration and patriotic zeal were in him combined with a strength of moral purpose and a steadfast uprightness which enabled him to go through a long political career with less of the soil of politics than any of his contemporaries of equal standing. It was upon Tilley's financial ability and the confidence which his character inspired among business men that Macdonald chiefly relied when it became necessary to put into actual operation the national policy of protection for native industries. The system which he introduced has remained the settled policy of the country, accepted practically by all parties, for more than a quarter of a century.

It is perhaps the highest of all tributes to the genius of Macdonald that he was able to draw to his support a group of men of the weight and worth of Cartier, Tupper and Tilley, and retain through a long series of years their loyal devotion to him as a leader. Each in his own way a commanding personality, they were of one accord in following Macdonald with unswerving fidelity through all the vicissitudes of his fortune. Along with him they grasped and held tenaciously the idea of a great and united Canada forming an integral part of the empire, and to that end devoted the work of their lives. Many co-workers assisted in the great task. But probably every one of the long list of ministers who served with Macdonald in the Dominion cabinet would have agreed that to Cartier, Tupper and Tilley was due a niche in Canadian history peculiar to themselves, and that something would be lacking in the perspective of Macdonald's career if their names were not specially associated with it.

The material available for making any final record of Macdonald's life during his last long lease of power, is in some respects scanty. Mr. Pope, to whom his papers were intrusted, makes no attempt to cover this period exhaustively, believing that the time has not yet arrived for giving to the public documents connected with a period so controversial. Seeing that many of the actors upon the stage of public affairs at that time are still alive, the wisdom of this decision cannot be questioned. It is therefore only possible to follow Macdonald during these years along those lines of his life which were fully open to the public. Here the material is so abundant as to perplex a biographer and almost to defy any attempt at analysis or condensation. His name was the centre around which the political journalism of the time revolved from day to day. The cartoonists of the comic press found in his well-known features their most popular and effective study. The pages of Hansard from 1878 to 1891 reveal as nothing else can his tireless devotion to parliamentary life. In those official records, the reader recognizes his unfailing industry, the variety and minuteness of his knowledge of public affairs—the versatility of his mind —his readiness in debate and repartee—his adroit management of the parliamentary machine through which he worked out his purposes.

The election of 1882 turned chiefly upon the endorsement of the National Policy. The friends of the policy claimed that doubt about its continuance prevented capitalists from investing their money in the country. The system had now been in operation for three years: the country was prosperous, and Macdonald had every reason to look forward to the contest with equanimity. The Opposition, however, unconvinced by facts, still viewed the matter in a different light. "The N. P. is unpopular," its leading journal said, "with the producing classes. . . . . A protective tariff must necessarily mean death—or, which is the same thing, that living death signified by a state of nonexpansion—to all Canadian manufacturers." As regards the popularity or unpopularity of the National Policy, something remained to be learnt from the coming election, and still more from others to follow. Meantime, Sir John was preparing a measure intended to make assurance doubly sure, and one which he relied on his parliamentary majority to carry.

The fourth session of the fourth parliament of Canada had begun on February 9th, 1882. On April 28th, Sir John brought in a bill "to adjust the representation in the House of Commons." A bill of this nature had been rendered necessary by the census of the year before, which had shown that Ontario was entitled, on the basis of population, to four more members than it actually had but it was not necessary that it should have been converted, as it was, into a means for placing the Liberals at a still greater disadvantage in the electoral struggle about to ensue. Certain of the changes proposed were natural and proper, and others plainly desirable; but it has been generally admitted that the Act, as a whole, involved an unjustifiable manipulation of the constituencies. Mr. Blake, at that time leader of the Opposition, said that "the honourable gentleman, having a great duty to discharge, one which demanded that he should discharge it upon principles of general public justice, has determined to use his majority to load the dice in the political game which is shortly to be played." In point of fact, county boundaries were roughly altered, and townships flung this way or that in the attempt to alter the political balance. To Liberal constituencies were added Liberal townships from other constituencies previously doubtful, which thus, by the reduction of the Liberal vote, became Conservative. Conservative municipalities were in like manner detached from counties whose majority could be lessened with impunity, and joined to others which trembled in the balance. Macdonald humorously, but too audaciously, described the process as "hiving the Grits," and more seriously defended it as paying back in their own coin what the Ontario Liberals had similarly done on a previous occasion to the detriment of his party; but whether he was particularly careful not to exceed the measure of previous Liberal misdoing may be doubted. The Globe (April 29th, 1882) described it as "an Act to keep the Tory party in power till the next census," and added the vigorous comment - "Even in the United States, with its many examples of vicious legislation, we have never heard of such a villainous act of legislation as this. It strikes at the very root of the representative system." A few days later the same paper published a letter from "A Constant Reader," who had reached, as a Liberal, the depths of political pessimism and despair. "Another mistake," wrote this gentleman, "which our leaders make is this—they seem to think the people are pure. It is a great mistake; they are as corrupt as the government that represents them at Ottawa. Until the Reformers can score one against Sir John by superior low cunning, they will be beaten at the elections."

The Globe reproved its correspondent for these remarks, which nevertheless went broadcast through the country. The suggestion made fell into fruitful soil, if we are to judge by the abundant crop of similar sentiments and principles which sprung up in Ontario a few years later, when to support a Liberal regime ballot-stuffing and other gross forms of electoral trickery brought deep disgrace on Canadian politics. The "gerrymander" did harm by the feeling of unfairness and the desire for retaliation which it stirred up in men's minds. It illustrates the manoeuvres to which Sir John Macdonald, despite his intellectual breadth, could on occasion descend. It was an unfair piece of party strategy, and in some constituencies worked as it was intended to do. That it had not more influence on the elections was due to the indignation which the measure excited in the minds of his opponents, and the greater intensity of the efforts they put forth in consequence ; also, it was alleged by some of the Reform journals, to a certain lukewarmness induced in the minds of thoughtful Conservatives who shrunk from accepting the maxim that everything is fair in politics. The Liberals at this time had troubles of their own, for there was open dissension among their leaders. Blake, who was far less hostile to the National Policy than were Mackenzie and Cartwright, found his attempts to conciliate the manufacturers were neutralized by doctrinaire pronouncements on the part of his lieutenants. Still, in a speech delivered a few days before the House closed, he confidently predicted that "an indignant and honest people, of whatever political complexion, is about to resent at the polls the fraud which is attempted to be perpetrated upon it." Whatever resentment honest people may have felt, the general result was that the government was sustained by a majority of over sixty, very nearly as many as in the last House. The few votes gained by the "gerrymander" might, therefore, well have been spared.

Amongst the notable incidents of the session of 1882, was the passing by a practically unanimous vote of certain resolutions moved by Mr. Costigan, and supported by Mr. Blake in a very elaborate speech of some hours' duration, recommending the British government to grant Home Rule to Ireland. In the senate alone was there a division, when the vote stood thirty-six "yeas" to six "nays." Sir John Macdonald supported the resolutions in a brief, but not very emphatic, speech, in the course of which he characterized Mr. Blake's oratorical effort as "demagogic" and calculated to do much harm. There was a more pronounced antagonism between the two men than there had been between Sir John and Mackenzie. Both were lawyers; both, in their separate ways, were "intellectuals"; and each was probably conscious of a somewhat deeper penetration by the other of the secret weaknesses of his own character than was altogether comfortable. Sir John never delivered orations; Mr. Blake did. It would have been a labour for Sir John to "embroider" a theme, to use a French expression, and in point of fact he never attempted it; Mr. Blake on the other hand had great facility in that line and an unbounded copiousness. Just as heartily as Sir John disliked the long speeches of Mr. Blake, did Mr. Blake dislike the short speeches of Sir John. One or two that the latter delivered in England towards the close of the year 1884 gave his adversary matter for criticism in the ensuing session of parliament. Speaking of Canada, Sir John had said that there were no industries materially suffering, and that every industrious man could get a good day's pay for a good day's work—a statement which Mr. Blake did not think warranted by the condition of things in the country, which he asserted was one of general depression. But there was worse. Sir .John, impelled by what spirit of mischief there is no guessing, had also said that "any Englishman in coming to Canada, if he was a man of education, invariably joined the Canadian Conservative party, no matter what his home politics may have been." This Mr. Blake took seriously, and declared to be a gross insult to the Liberal party. In the following year the Liberal leader himself went over to England for a visit of some months—as also did Sir John some three months later—and in a speech delivered at a banquet to Lord Rosebery in Edinburgh, made the acknowledgment that "many British emigrants who are Liberals come to Canada, and of these some become Conservatives in Canadian politics." If Sir John took the proverbial ell in the statement he made, here at least was the inch, perhaps a little more, that he was entitled to.

Sir John again had the misfortune to incur the censure of Mr. Blake by some remarks he made a day or two before leaving England in the month of January, 1886. On that occasion he said that Canada was ready to join the mother country in an offensive and defensive league; to risk her last man and her last shilling in defence of the empire and the flag. To this Mr. Blake demurred. He declined to accept responsibility for a policy he had no share in moulding ; and if we did not get, and would not take, a voice in shaping the foreign policy of the empire, we should not come under liabilities beyond what our own immediate and direct interest demanded, and should not, he said, be called on to expend our blood and treasure in carrying out jingo schemes, whether of Tory or Liberal politicians, on the other side of the water. These accents have had comparatively recent echoes; but Sir John in his impulsive way, with no excessive refinements of phrase—he was no great master of language — had probably more nearly expressed the instinct of the Canadian people. It is not uninstructive to note what, in a broad sense of the word, may be called the ethical differences between these two great political leaders, each with qualities complementary to those of the other. Had fortune but united their efforts, and made them sympathetic co-workers instead of jealous rivals, it seems certain that the effect on Canadian politics and on the status of Canada today would have been very beneficial.

The circumstances under which the elections of 1887 were contested, differed materially from those which had prevailed in 1882. The old issues were still under discussion but new ones had been added.The second rebellion in the North-West had, as we have seen, been suppressed and its leader Riel had expiated on the scaffold his twice-repeated crime of high treason. Mention has been made of the severe pressure brought to bear upon Sir John Macdonald to stay the sentence of the law, and of his unrelenting firmness in refusing to do so. If there had previously been any division in the cabinet on this painful subject, all trace of it had disappeared when parliament met on February 25th 1886. To appease in some measure racial and religious feeling Mr. Landry, a supporter of the government, moved a resolution affirming "that this House feels it its duty to express its deep regret that the sentence of death passed upon Louis Riel for high treason was allowed to be carried into execution." In the division which followed the "yeas" were fifty-two, the "nays" one hundred and forty-six. The French-Canadian Liberals supported the motion bodily and were joined by seventeen French-Canadian Conservatives. Mr. Blake who, in an earlier discussion, had constructed the famous climax—"Had there been no neglect there would have been no rebellion. If no rebellion, then no arrest. If no arrest, no trial. If no trial, no condemnation. If no condemnation, no execution. They therefore who are responsible for the first are responsible for every link in that fatal chain,"—had later persuaded himself that the death sentence should have been commuted. He accordingly gave his vote for Mr. Landry's motion, and by so doing placed himself in opposition—no doubt most conscientiously—to a number of the weightiest men of his own party, including Alexander Mackenzie, Sir Richard Cartwright, William Paterson and John Charlton.

But beyond parliament there was still the appeal to the country to be faced, and none knew better than Sir John that there the Riel difficulty might meet him again under less controllable conditions. Upon that matter, however, he had taken his stand and could only abide the result. On the other great question of the day, that of protection to home industries, he felt that the country was with him. That was probably his chief dependence, for the forces arrayed against him at this moment, both east and west, were certainly not to be despised.

In Quebec, Mercier was triumphant. Nova Scotia was still restless, and in local politics strongly Liberal. In 1886, Sir Oliver Mowat had suddenly dissolved the Ontario legislature, had won a striking victory, and had thrown all the influence of his rejuvenated government on the side of the federal opposition, whose hopes were now running high. With very many, indeed, hope had matured into absolute certainty, and the most confident predictions of the overthrow of the Conservative government were uttered on the platform, in the press and at the street corners. The Toronto Globe took the most serious view of the situation. "The paramount issue," it said (January 18th, 1887), "is not whether Liberals or Conservatives shall administer Canada's affairs for the next five years, but whether the Dominion shall continue in existence. . . . That the break up of the Confederation would ensue from their [the government's] success is as certain as the break up of the winter." The stateznent indicates the intensity of party feeling rather than true prophetic vision. Though Macdonald won, the Confederation showed no sign of rift. It is noticeable that, in formulating the policy of the Liberal party a short time after the elections, the Toronto organ did not take by any means the same strong ground against the National Policy as it had done in 1882. On the subject of the tariff it said, "It is clearer than ever that a very high scale of taxation must be retained, and that the manufacturers have nothing to fear."

The elections took place on February 22nd. The result may be inferred from the Globe's comment, "God help poor Canada!" This time, however, there was a serious diminution in the government's majority, mainly owing to losses in the province of Quebec consequent on the Riel affair. Members of the House had been more amenable to Sir John's influence than their constituents proved to be, and not a few of them paid the penalty of party allegiance by defeat. The first division list showed that the government could count on a majority of twenty-two. A month or two later the Globe so far accepted the accomplished fact as to say, "Of course, as self-governing Canadians, we have a constitutional right to make fools of ourselves if we see fit." Mr. Goldwin Smith was quoted about this time as expressing his belief that annexation to the United States was written in the stars.

An interesting incident of the session of 1887, was the adoption, on June 7th, of a jubilee address to the queen. The sentiments which it breathed were those of the most devoted loyalty to the person of the sovereign, of admiration for her character, and of satisfaction with the status of Canada as a self-governing country in vital connection with the British Empire. It was an occasion for oratory on the part of those who had it to give, and Mr. Laurier, who had just succeeded Mr. Blake in the leadership of the Liberal party, was easily the hero of the occasion. If Lord Durham, in the world of shades, could have caught some words of the eulogy pronounced by a French-Canadian upon British institutions and British liberty as enjoyed in Canada fifty years save one after the apparent failure of his mission, it would have amply compensated him for much that he had suffered. Sir John Macdonald, whom nature never designed for efforts of this kind, spoke briefly and not very happily. He said, however, that the "armed resistance of 1837 was due, not to disloyalty to the queen, but to grievances of which the people complained," a declaration which was seized upon by the Liberal journal as a kind of belated confession by a Conservative leader that the Reformers of the past had been in the right and those who opposed them in the wrong. Sir John possibly said a little more than he meant; he had never been a "family compact" man; on the other hand he had stoutly denied that there was any justification for rebellion.

In 1888 a sharp conflict arose between the provincial government of Manitoba and the federal government of the Dominion in reference to the monopoly of transportation enjoyed by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. An important part of the original agreement with that company, and one of the principal inducements which it had to undertake the work, was that no other corporation should have the right to build lines southwards so as to connect with the railway systems of the United States. This was considered a necessary protection against the old and powerful lines within the limits of the States. During the years of agricultural depression, when the low price of wheat coupled with a series of bad harvests left the Western farmer in a very impoverished condition, the people of Manitoba became very restless under the Canadian Pacific monopoly, and attributed a part of their difficulties to the lack of railway competition. The feeling grew so strong throughout the province that the determination was taken to break up this monopoly in defiance of the law. Macdonald's government was placed in an awkward position. On the one side their honour was pledged to the company ; on the other the popular feeling was placing a heavy strain upon federal relations. In conformity with his usual practice, Macdonald found his way out of the difficulty by means of compromise. A considerable loan was made to the Canadian Pacific in return for the abandonment of their legal rights.

We have seen that Macdonald was obliged to face a storm of racial and religious feeling in the province of Quebec when his sense of duty to the Dominion forced upon him the conviction that the law should take its course with regard to Riel. In this case it was Roman Catholic feeling that was aroused and threatened to shatter political alliances and combinations. So, too, it was when the New Brunswick School Billi.xaa'believed to take away from Roman Catholic Act an acquired right in the matter of separating schools, and followers of Macdonald of the faith from all the provinces joined hands in supporting the claims of their New Brunswick co-religionists. But storms as violent he had also to face from a precisely opposite quarter. One of the most noteworthy of these arose in connection with the Jesuits' Estates Act, passed by the provincial legislature of Quebec in 1888, under the inspiration of the Hon. Honore Mercier, then premier of that province.

So far back as 1773 the Jesuit order, which held considerable estates in Canada, had been suppressed by the Pope. The property of the order thereupon fell to the Crown, and was applied to purposes of public education in the province. Under the Act of Confederation special provision was made for vesting this property in the provincial government of Quebec, and it thus became subject to the control of the local legislature.

But the Roman Catholic Church had always claimed that the confiscated possessions rightly belonged to it exclusively, and that they should have reverted to the bishops of the various dioceses. When Mr. Mercier, whose political power in Quebec depended largely upon his relations with the Church, incorporated in 1887 the Society of Jesus, that body naturally laid claim to the estates under dispute. To settle the duly to the content of all claimants, Mr. Mercier took a bold step. He introduced into the Quebec legislature and passed an Act authorizing the payment of a hundred thousand dollars as compensation for the lands which the Jesuit body had held before the conquest. The voting of a large sum of public money to a religious organization was a step peculiarly calculated to offend the susceptibilities of large sections of the Canadian electorate. The British and Protestant portion of the population of Quebec regarded it as a dangerous encroachment on the resources of the province, evidently designed to strengthen a Church already excessively strong in its great possessions and in the exemption of its property from taxation. The watchful eyes of Protestant Ontario detected in the measure a threat of French and ecclesiastical domination in Canadian politics, while the Orange body was especially indignant at the provision—made an essential part of the Act—that the Pope, as head of the Roman Catholic Church, should determine the method of distributing the money, and that, until His Holiness had done this, the sum granted should be held as a special deposit.

In this remarkable measure there was, manifestly, abundant material for kindling and feeding the fires of religious animosity, and a violent agitation arose, in which press, pulpit and platform each took a vigorous part. The controversy was shifted at once to the political arena by the fact that the only way in which the Act in question could be prevented from becoming law was by its disallowance by the federal government. A small but influential group of Macdonald's followers in parliament, headed by Dalton McCarthy, up to this time one of his most trusted advisers on constitutional measures, combined with a few Ontario Liberals to press on the federal government the policy of disallowance. Great efforts were made to arouse feeling on the question in the provinces outside Quebec, and especially in Ontario, where the passions stirred up by the murder of Scott, at Fort Garry, in the first rebellion, and later by the agitation to save Riel after the second rebellion, were not yet entirely laid to rest.

The motion favouring disallowance brought forward in parliament by Colonel W. E. O'Brien, illustrates well the kind of task laid upon Macdonald in mediating between conflicting interests and passions. In that motion disallowance of the Jesuits' Estates Act is urged: "Firstly, because it endows from public funds a religious organization, thereby violating the undoubted constitutional principle of the complete separation of Church and State, and of the absolute equality of all denominations before the law. Secondly, because it recognizes the usurpation of a right by a foreign authority, namely, His Holiness the Pope of Rome, to claim that his consent was necessary to empower the provincial legislature to dispose of a portion of the public domain, and also because the Act is made to depend upon the will, and the appropriation of the grant thereby made, as subject to the control of the same authority. And, thirdly, because the endowment of the Society of Jesus, an alien, secret and politico-religious body, the expulsion of which from every Christian community wherein it has had a footing has been rendered necessary by its intolerant and mischievous inter-meddling with the functions of civil government, is fraught with danger to the civil and religious liberties of the people of Canada."

Macdonald took his stand upon the strictly constitutional aspect of the question. The control of the Jesuits' Estates, no one could deny, had been handed over to the provincial government ; the province had a right to do what it pleased with its own. However injudicious the method adopted for distributing the public funds of a province ; however irritating to the people of other provinces the conditions attached to such distribution, the exercise of the federal veto would nevertheless be an unwarranted invasion of provincial rights. Even if the people of Quebec should decide to throw any part of the public money into the sea, they had the constitutional right to pursue their course of folly.

These arguments prevailed in parliament, and Colonel O'Brien's motion was defeated by a vote of one hundred and eighty-eight to thirteen. The agitation was continued, however, in the country, and ended, after taking the form of mass meetings at various centres and a convention at Toronto, in the formation of an Equal Rights Association, and later of the Protestant Protective Association, which for some time carried on an anti-Catholic campaign, even more opposed to the growth of a broad Canadian sentiment than was the original action of Mr. Mercier. During all this time Macdonald's influence was steadily employed to allay an inflamed condition of feeling which he no doubt regarded as springing chiefly from bigotry and religious animosity, and as operating against that political consolidation of the Dominion which was the constant object of his efforts.

Meanwhile, other difficulties were accumulating and new dangers had to be faced. Only slowly and painfully did Canada feel its way forwards to a clear understanding of its true place in the world. Conditions were becoming more complicated, new combinations were being formed, new ambitions were stirring, all destined to make themselves felt in the political conflict with which the public career of Macdonald closed, and which must be dealt with in a separate chapter.


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