AMONG the overseas nations of the Britannic Commonwealth Canada holds the premier place by reason of her population, wealth, and material resources, and her geographical proximity to the mother-country gives her a special political influence which is not enjoyed by more distant Dominions. As a natural consequence, therefore, the people of Canada have invariably undertaken the task of blazing the trail in the long constitutional journey which has brought them from the status of minor colonial outposts to full and equal partnership in a great worldwide commonwealth. It was Canada who first wrested from England the privileges of responsible government, it was Canada who first asserted the principle of fiscal autonomy and it was Canada who first acquired separate treaty-making powers. Sir Robert Borden has fixed 1848 as the date when the organization of a new constitution for the British Commonwealth began and there will be few to dispute his assertion that its final development has not been attained. The self-governing Dominions long ago secured the fullest autonomy in their domestic affairs and in theory they have been conceded full and equal rights of partnership in the management of the joint interests of the British Commonwealth. But in actual practice they are still what is described in commercial parlance as "sleeping partners" in a most important sphere of policy and until some plan is devised whereby all the units of the British Commonwealth can obtain a real cooperative control over foreign policy, a national function whose sane and enlightened management is a vital factor in the happiness and prosperity of any community, the organization of that commonwealth must be regarded as marred by serious defects. But the movement for the necessary adjustments and changes, whose urgency has been sharply demonstrated by recent events, is now under way, and it is fitting that Canada is once more playing her historic part as a pioneer.

When the war came Canada found herself plunged in a night into the European maelstrom. During the early war years her government was content to leave the conduct of the British Commonwealth's diplomacy to the Foreign Office in London, but as the struggle dragged on it became necessary to offer Canada and the other Dominions some real voice in the direction of British policy. At intervals Canadian ministers visited London and held conferences with the British Cabinet, but it was not till 1917 that the organization known as the Imperial War Cabinet came into existence. It was a somewhat anomalous body which Sir Robert Borden once defined as a "Cabinet of Governments," but it functioned with considerable efficiency and satisfaction till peace came. To it was entrusted the general direction of British policy, military and civil, and Sir Robert Borden and General Smuts had exactly the same status as their British colleagues.

With the arrival of peace the question of the representation of the British Commonwealth at the inevitable conference had to be faced. The Foreign Office hierarchy and many influential British politicians desired a unified British delegation on which the Dominions would be allowed to send representatives in an advisory capacity. But Sir Robert Borden and General Smuts began a fight for the separate representation of the Dominions at Paris and their point was eventually gained--in face, as a Canadian minister confessed, of the opposition of the most conservative elements in Britain. Sir Robert Borden and three colleagues attended the Peace Conference as the representatives of Canada and affixed their signatures to the Peace Treaty in that capacity. Canada was also accorded separate representation in the League of Nations and the claim was advanced that she had at last attained the status of complete nationhood. The separate statehood of Canada, as distinct from its separate nationhood, was nevertheless called into question. Among others, the Republican Party in the United States challenged the doctrine that the British Dominions had acquired any international status. There was available the damning evidence of the British North America Act, still unrepealed, by whose terms Canada is in the eyes of international lawyers a subordinate community, fettered and bound by the legislation of the British Parliament. This challenge to the assumptions of the Canadian Nationalists was welcomed in Imperialist circles both in Canada and Britain and the controversy over Canada's exact status is still raging, to the intermittent disturbance of her politics.

As far back as 1919 the Round Table pointed out the unsatisfactory character of the arrangements between the states of the British Commonwealth for a joint control of foreign policy. The force of such contentions was suddenly demonstrated in connection with the Near Eastern crisis of September, 1922. On the evening of September 15 the British Government sent a despatch to all the Dominion Governments intimating that armed resistance to the Kemalists was almost unavoidable and asking what steps the Dominion Governments were prepared to take in support of such action. Not only the King Ministry but the people of Canada were thrown into great perturbation at the prospect of immersion in another European war. The government returned a non-committal reply, asked for more information and announced its intention of consulting Parliament. The result of the Mudania Conference dissolved the prospect of immediate war, but there is little doubt that if hostilities had broken out in the Dardanelles a serious political crisis would have developed at Ottawa. The apathy of the French-Canadian race to European commitments was amply demonstrated during the Great War, and it is no less marked today. Yet two-thirds of the parliamentary supporters of the King Ministry are either French-Canadians or dependent for their seats on French-Canadian votes, and if the government had taken any steps to send a military contingent it is calculated that at least 40 of their supporters would have gone into open revolt. Many of the Progressive Party would also have opposed intervention and it Mr. Mackenzie King had decided to carry out a war policy he must have sought the cooperation of the Conservative leader, Mr. Meighen. The result would have been a wholesale bouleversement in Canadian politics and a disastrous disturbance of the national life. If, on the other hand, the King government had declined to take any part in a war with the Turks the results might have been even more serious. Liberal defections might have been balanced by Progressive adhesions but within twenty-four hours there would have broken out in the English-speaking areas of Canada a fierce agitation against what would have been denounced as the government's apathy and cowardice. All the old and very deep resentment felt against Quebec for its imperfect sympathy towards the national war effort in 1914-18 would have blazed out in full fury. Racial and religious animosities which all public spirited Canadians are endeavoring to suppress would have revived and Canadian politics would have assumed a most unpleasant aspect.

These perils were for the moment averted, but as long as the present instability of the European situation continues their reappearance at any moment is possible. The cold truth is that the liabilities of Canada and other Dominions for the consequences of policies devised by Downing Street are completely undefined and as long as they remain in this unfortunate condition, whatever may happen in the other Dominions, a political crisis must follow any attempt to make Canada assume military or other responsibilities outside the North American continent. It would be interesting to discover whether the British Cabinet in making its fateful decision of September 15 gave any consideration to the possibility of very serious political difficulties in Canada.

The same episode also demonstrated the faultiness of the present methods of communication between the two governments. The strange controversy between Lord Curzon and Mr. Winston Churchill revealed that the fateful message to the Dominions was despatched from London on the night of Friday, September 15. Allowing for the difference in time, it should have been in the hands of the Canadian Prime Minister, who acts as Minister of External Affairs, before midnight on the same date. Considerable mystery envelops the actual time of its arrival but it is certain that the Prime Minister did not see it till Sunday morning and no action about it was taken till Monday. Here was a serious issue of peace or war in which the cooperation of the Dominions was sought, and yet a period of at least 60 hours had to elapse before the decision of the British Government could be considered by the Canadian Cabinet. Obviously machinery of this type can hardly be described as reliable.

The absence of the proper machinery for cooperation between the various units of the Britannic Commonwealth has long been plain to intelligent students of its problems. At the Imperial Conference of 1917, the following resolution was passed on the motion of Sir Robert Borden:

"The Imperial War Conference are of opinion that the readjustment of the constitutional relations of the component parts of the Empire is too important and intricate a subject to be dealt with during the war, and that it should form the subject of a special Imperial Conference to be summoned as soon as possible after the cessation of hostilities.

"They deem it their duty, however, to place on record their view that any such readjustment, while thoroughly preserving all existing powers of self-government and complete control of domestic affairs, should be based upon a full recognition of the Dominions as autonomous nations of an Imperial Commonwealth, and of India as an important portion of the same, should recognize the right of the Dominions and India to an adequate voice in foreign policy and in foreign relations, and should provide effective arrangements for continuous consultation in all important matters of common Imperial concern, and for such necessary concerted action, founded on consultation, as the several governments may determine."

It was arranged that the Conference of 1921 should discuss the arrangements for the special constitutional conference, but when this particular item on the agenda was presented it was unanimously decided that the summoning of the special conference should be indefinitely postponed. The British Government were possibly afraid that the spirit of particularist nationalism, then visible in some of the Dominions, would demand concessions which would imperil the political solidarity of the commonwealth. Mr. Hughes of Australia and Mr. Massey of New Zealand, a brace of strong imperialists, have always been complaisant allies of the British school of imperialists. Mr. Meighen's position in Canada was too uncertain for him to take a definite stand and General Smuts' dependence on British votes in South Africa made him unwilling to oppose the desires of the British Government. Accordingly the constitutional conference was shelved and the relations of the British state were allowed to continue in their chaotic state.

In the debate on the Irish settlement, Mr. Lloyd George, who was then Prime Minister, made a very important speech in which he laid down extreme doctrines of centralization in the field of foreign policy. Speaking in the House of Commons on December 14, 1921, he declared that the position of the Dominions in reference to external affairs had been completely revolutionized in the course of the last four years. He freely admitted that although the Dominions had come to the help of the mother country in a policy which they had not shared in making, it was unfair to expect them to repeat the performance, and therefore some control of foreign policy must be accorded them. Then he made this significant statement:

"The machinery is the machinery of the British Government--the Foreign Office, the Ambassadors--the machinery must remain here. It is impossible that it could be otherwise, unless you have a Council of Empire with representatives for the purpose. Apart from that you must act through one instrument. The instrument of the foreign policy of the Empire is the British Foreign Office. This has been accepted by the Dominions as inevitable. But they claim a voice in determining the lines of our future policy. At the last Imperial Conference they were there discussing our policy in Germany, our policy in Egypt, our policy in America, our policy all over the world, and we are now acting upon the mature general decisions arrived at with the common consent of the whole Empire. The sole control of Britain over foreign policy is now vested in the Empire as a whole. That is a new fact, and I would point out what bearing it has on the Irish controversy. The advantage to us is that joint control means joint responsibility, and when the burden of Empire has become so vast it is well that we should have the shoulders of these young giants under the burden to help us along."

This declaration aroused some protests from papers of a nationalist tinge in Canada, but the country became absorbed in the tumults of a general election fought on domestic issues and the shelving of the constitutional conference was soon forgotten. However, papers like the Manitoba Free Press have continued to declaim against the decision as a serious error and Sir Robert Borden, who has had more experience in the practical workings of the existing arrangements than any other living statesman, has lost few opportunities of expressing himself in the same strain. Speaking recently to the American Historical Association at New Haven he delivered himself of the following observations:

"The constitutional conference alluded to in the resolution of 1917 has not yet been held, and at a meeting of Prime Ministers, held in London in 1921, the surprising conclusion was reached that it was no longer necessary. It would be difficult to suggest any substantial reason for this determination."

The probability is that a special constitutional conference will not be held in the immediate future but that at the next regular Imperial Conference some proposals will be put forward for the establishment of machinery which will give some reality to Canadian control over foreign policy. Even if the other Dominions are content to preserve the status quo, Canadian opinion will press for some changes and the Ottawa government will be forced to respond. Sir Clifford Sifton, who was a leading member of Laurier's Cabinet and has in recent years developed strongly nationalist views, has urged the holding of a Canadian constitutional conference which should, in addition to formulating solutions for some awkward domestic problems, try to work out a policy for the relations of Canada with the other British states. The suggestion has not elicited wide support, but the Near Eastern crisis convinced the majority of intelligent Canadians that the present machinery for the cooperative control of British foreign policy is hopelessly inadequate, farcical even. The absurdities of the present position are too great to be permanent. By Article X of the League of Nations Canada is committed to entanglements in the European imbroglio. She has pledged herself to guarantee the territorial integrity of Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries and has thereby undertaken obligations which she has resolutely refused to assume for the mother country under any definite contract. The Canadian people find themselves involved in European complications with unlimited liabilities therefor and they are slowly realizing the full implications of their situation.

Today one finds in Canada very divergent currents of thought upon this question. If the French-Canadians could be sure of the preservation of their special racial and religious privileges in an independent Canada the vast majority of them would favor Canadian independence; but knowing that these privileges would be anything but secure in an independent state they are willing to preserve the status quo as long as it entails no serious external obligations. Nor does the idea of Canadian independence lack powerful advocates outside French-Canada. However, they may be dismissed as an effective force until they can convince the French-Canadians that the destruction of the British North America Act would not imperil the special privileges which it guarantees them.

There is another school of thought which has enjoyed distinguished backing in Canada. It has favored utilizing the League of Nations as an organ for the expression of Canadian policy in regard to international questions. Its view is that while the common ties of sentiment, tradition, and language would always make the British states a harmonious and cooperating league within the League, yet the new organization now functioning at Geneva offers the Dominions a chance of emancipation from the supervision of Downing Street. It was undoubtedly with this end in view that the Borden government gave its most active encouragement to the work of the League. A liberal financial contribution was given, Sir Herbert Ames, a well-known Canadian M. P., was appointed General Treasurer of the League, and a number of Canadians were drafted onto its staff. Canadian delegates have attended its meetings and played an active part in its discussions. On more than one issue they have been found voting against their British colleagues and this phenomenon has excited profound horror in certain circles in Canada. The meetings of the League have afforded a curious sidelight upon strange Canadian contacts with European affairs. There happens to be settled in the prairie provinces of Canada a very large and prosperous body of Ukrainians, whose voting power is considerable. These people have been deeply outraged at the treatment accorded their kindred by Poland, to whom Eastern Galicia, part of the homeland of the Ukrainians, was awarded. The Ukrainians of Galicia have been pressing for emancipation. Consumed with an anxiety to conciliate the Ukrainian vote in the west, Canadian delegates belonging to ministries of different stripes have raised in the Assembly of the League the question of the fate of the Ukrainians of Eastern Galicia and have pressed for action to relieve their woes. No action has been taken, but the incident clearly proves that what is regarded as one of the most backward elements in Canada has a distinct and lively interest in European affairs. Similar ties bind the other immigrant communities to their original homes and since most of the immigrant population has found its way to the regions lying west of the Great Lakes it is easily intelligible why the Manitoba Free Press, the leading paper of that territory, devotes more space than any other Canadian paper to the discussion of international affairs.

But what Canadians who favored the development of the League as an avenue for their country's participation in international affairs had not foreseen was that divers European statesmen would conspire to flout the League, curtail its real authority and keep the Supreme Council in being as the real arbiter of Europe's destinies. If the Canadian statesmen had talked less about the virtues and blessings of the League and worked more energetically to force recognition of its value and authority upon their British colleagues they would have been in a stronger position.

In any case, while there is much good-will in Canada towards the League, many Canadians are not prepared to await the full efflorescence of its powers before they can obtain some real measure of control over their foreign policy. Alternative schemes to that end are being constantly discussed. Any plans of imperial federation and a centralized Imperial Parliament may be ruled out of consideration, for their supporters in Canada today could barely muster a corporal's guard. The idea of an Imperial Council which should be specially charged with the supervision of the commonwealth's foreign policy has a larger body of advocates, but there are wide differences of opinion about its possible composition. The most acceptable suggestion has come from Mr. N. W. Rowell, who was an important member of the Coalition Government of 1917-1920 and has as intelligent a conception of international problems as any Canadian statesman except Sir Robert Borden. At present Canada and the other Dominions maintain in London officials called High Commissioners who have no political authority but are chiefly occupied with social duties and the supervision of bureaus dealing with trade and immigration. Mr. Rowell proposes that the status of the High Commissioner be completely changed and that he become an intermediary empowered to act as a communicating channel between the British Cabinet and his own government in the field of international relations. Mr. Rowell would also have him available to act as Canada's representative on the League of Nations, and in his book "The British Empire and World Peace" thus emphasizes the need for the change:

"It is important in the interests of Canada and her place in the League of Nations that there should be a measure of continuity in her representation at the Assembly and other international gatherings or conferences held under the auspices of the League. It would be of real value to Canada if one, at least, of her representatives knew and understood the point of view of the other nations represented in the League. The personal equation is now an important factor. . . . Does not Canada's position now entitle her to request that her High Commissioner should deal directly with the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs? The accredited representative of any foreign state in London has the right to discuss a matter affecting his state with the Foreign Secretary. How much more should the accredited representative of one of the Dominions possess this right?"

Another suggestion is that one member of the Canadian Cabinet should be continually resident in London, with the relations between Canada and the mother country and other European states as his special province. Of necessity he would take high rank in the Cabinet hierarchy and be entrusted with very wide authority. But if there were four or five resident Dominion ministers in London the inevitable step would be the formation of some sort of Imperial Council for Foreign Affairs with a permanent secretariat and definite organization. There might also be organized a common diplomatic service for the whole Commonwealth, and such a reform would bring many advantages. All the Dominions maintain departments of external affairs, but these are inadequately staffed and the various cabinets have often to act solely upon data furnished by the Foreign Office in Downing Street, whose officials are not unduly concerned about Dominion interests. Heretofore the British diplomatic service has remained a closed preserve for a limited class of Britons, but its democratization is now inevitable; and it would be hastened by the injection every year into the sacred enclaves of Downing Street of a contingent of young Canadians, South Africans, and Australians who would introduce the healthy democratic viewpoint of their native lands and would insensibly win proper consideration for their interests in matters of policy. One serious problem will be the dovetailing of any machinery which might be set up into the organization of the League of Nations, and it has been proposed that before each meeting of the League the delegates of the British states should hold a preliminary conference in London and try to arrive at some common basis of policy.

For the moment the issue of Canadian participation in the diplomatic work of the Commonwealth centers round the question of a special Canadian Ministry at Washington. The idea was bruited many years ago by both Liberal and Conservative statesmen at Ottawa, but it only took active shape at the conclusion of the war when Sir Robert Borden urged its desirability upon the British Government. The same elements in Britain who had opposed the separate representation of the Dominions at the Peace Conference were horrified at the suggestion and conjured up a variety of objections and difficulties. But the Canadian Government, stressing the evidence of Lord Bryce that a large proportion of the work of the British Embassy at Washington directly concerned Canadian affairs, carried its point and on May, 1920, the terms of an arrangement whereby Canada secured the right to direct representation at Washington were announced. A substantial sum was voted for the maintenance of the Ministry and if Sir Robert Borden had not been compelled through ill health to lay down the Premiership an immediate appointment would have been made. Mr. Mackenzie King, the present Premier, had given his cordial approval to the principle of a Canadian Minister at Washington, but unfortunately the veteran Minister of Finance, Mr. W. S. Fielding, who commands great authority in the Liberal Party by reason of his long services, is an inveterate opponent of the idea and has successfully thwarted any appointment. Mr. Fielding belongs to the old school of colonialists who view such assertions of national individuality as sheer treachery to the mother country and talk with horror of the perils involved in a breach of the Commonwealth's diplomatic unity. It is an open secret that the British Foreign Office also dislikes acutely the prospect of this innovation. But Mr. Fielding's school of thought is being rapidly thinned in Canada, and Downing Street would do well to prepare itself for the inevitable appearance in the near future of a Canadian Minister at Washington.

Breaches in the diplomatic unity of the Britannic Commonwealth have already taken place without serious consequences to its real structure. In 1921 the Conference of Premiers which met in London was especially charged with the duty of examining the question of the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, then on the verge of expiration. The Foreign Office had definitely made up its mind to renew the pact and Australia and New Zealand were prepared to fall into line. But Mr. Meighen, the Canadian Premier, who had a better knowledge of the repugnance of American opinion to the alliance, took a very resolute stand against renewal and pointed out that his country would not lightheartedly endorse any foreign policy likely to entail the loss of the good-will of a neighbor with whom it had a variety of relations of the most intimate character. It was also demonstrated to the British Government that opinion in British Columbia was just as bitterly anti-Japanese as in California and that its legislature had passed a resolution demanding the complete exclusion of all Oriental immigrants. Mr. Meighen plainly intimated the possibility that the Canadian Parliament to which he intended to submit the treaty might contract itself out of its obligations. Here would have developed a real fissure in the diplomatic solidarity of the Commonwealth and the British Foreign Office took fright at the prospect. It played for time and sought postponement of the issue involved. But the Canadian position having been backed by General Smuts and a powerful body of British opinion, including the Northcliffe Press and the Manchester Guardian, it was revealed to the American Government and public that the more enlightened elements in the Britannic Commonwealth were not prepared to impair their good relations with the United States for the sake of an alliance with Japan. The way was at once cleared for the issuance of invitations to the Washington Disarmament Conference, the decisions of which, if they have not yielded their full fruit, have materially improved the prospects of world peace.

The episode of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance provided the first instance of the complete deflection of British foreign policy through the action of a Dominion, and it is safe to prophesy that it will not be the last. The bogey of the dangerous consequences of differences of opinion in the councils of the Britannic Commonwealth need not be taken seriously. Sir Robert Borden has testified that "while there were strong, sometimes vehement, differences of opinion both at Paris and Washington it was realized that in matters of vital concern and especially those involving its political unity the Commonwealth must speak with one voice." There are acute differences of opinion in all cabinets but in the end they usually manage to arrive at unanimity. The delegations of the Britannic Commonwealth will not find it difficult to practice the art of compromise as soon as the proper machinery for cooperation has been set up.

But in the ultimate analysis machinery is only an instrument of policy and it remains to consider briefly the Canadian attitude upon foreign affairs and international problems.

In a country so sundered by geographical and racial divisions it is a difficult task to find a common denominator of public opinion, but it can be said that the temper of the Canadian people is quite as pacific as that of their nearest neighbors. They are well content to remain in the orbit of the Britannic Commonwealth and in the main will accept the guidance of Great Britain in European affairs; but as a corollary Canada will expect her opinion to have special consideration in all matters relating to America. Mr. Meighen laid down this doctrine in 1921 and recognition cannot be denied it. The incidents surrounding the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese pact revealed a commonalty of diplomatic interest between Canada and the United States which will increase rather than wane in the coming years, and on all Pacific problems the two countries will be disposed to follow parallel policies. In the summer of 1921 Canada was given an opportunity to play what is her destined role as an interpreter between Great Britain and the United States. She availed herself of it with the most beneficent results. At all times in the future her influence in the field of foreign affairs will be thrown on the side of policies in which these two kindred countries can cooperate harmoniously. She is today feeling her way into the wider field of international politics and her path will be much simplified on the day that the United States sees fit to join the League of Nations.

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  • J. A. STEVENSON, Canadian correspondent of the Manchester Guardian and Parliamentary correspondent of the Toronto Star
  • More By J. A. Stevenson