He Was Out To Bust The Damn Thing!

21 Sep
English: A photograph of Wilfrid Laurier.

English: A photograph of Wilfrid Laurier. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Sir Wilfrid Laurier‘s days as Prime Minister of Canada ended with a general election on September 21, 1911.  It was one of the most astonishing upheavals in Canadian political history and surprised even the Conservatives who thought they had no chance of winning.

The election of 1911 was called “the reciprocity election.”  The Elgin-Marcy Treaty signed in 1854 had brought ten years of prosperity to Canada and many people hoped another deal could be made.  In January 1911, Canadian Finance Minister Fielding met American President Taft secretly in Albany, New York, and worked out a reciprocal trade agreement.  Canadian raw products could be sold in the States, while Canada would reduce tariffs on American manufactured products.

When news of the deal became known, Conservative leader Sir Robert Borden was so despondent that he wanted to resign.  It seemed impossible that the Liberals could be persuaded to stay on and fight it out.

Then the tide suddenly turned.  Laurier’s right hand man, Sir Clifford Sifton of Winnipeg, was opposed to reciprocity and joined seventeen other Liberals in signing a manifesto against it.  It was amusing, perhaps startling, that while Sifton opposed reciprocity, his newspaper, the Winnipeg Free Press, supported it.  Other wealthy Liberal supporters deserted Laurier, including Sir William Van Horne of the C.P.R. who said that he was “out to bust the damn thing.”  He wanted trade moving east and west, not north and south.

It was the Americans themselves who cooked Laurier’s goose.  President Taft said that Canada was at the parting of the ways with Britain.  Champ Clark, Speaker of the House of Representatives, said he had no doubt that Britain would joyfully see all her North American possessions become part of the United States, and added:  “We are preparing to annex Canada!”

That was enough ammunition for the Conservatives.  They waved the British flag in every campaign speech.  When the votes were counted, the Conservatives had 133 seats and the Liberals 86, exactly the reverse of the position before Laurier called the election.  Laurier never became prime minister again.

If you would like to learn more about this, I suggest going to visit the Canadian Encyclopedia, and the Cottage Country, as well as the Michael Suddard’s Homepage.


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7 responses to “He Was Out To Bust The Damn Thing!

  1. hairballexpress

    September 23, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    I’m just a kat, (and American kat!) and I don’t understand all that political stuff…but that Laurier guy doesn’t sound too intelligent. Bet he was a dog lover.


  2. weggieboy

    September 21, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Taft was very much an animal of the Manifest Destiny mode of thinking among Americans. He served as Governor-General of the Philippines from 1900-1904.

    That territory, taken from Spain in the largely yellow-journalism driven Spanish American War, experienced severe repression under American administration when they, the locals who thought America came to rescue them from Spanish oppression and to help them set up a free and independent Philippines, found out the Americans came as lords and masters.

    Once they realized Americans weren’t planning a role for local leaders, they fought back in a guerrilla war that the Americans aggressively and cruelly suppressed.

    Americans, those people who take exception to those who question American Exceptionalism, felt they knew best what was necessary to bring the dark people of that island territory into some sort of Asian mirror image of the Protestant America that very much felt it was destined to expand beyond the American West (ask the Native Americans how that went…) into new lands to bring those other dark people into “civilization”.

    Let’s not forget the annexation of Hawaii in that period, either! [Wikipedia: The Kingdom of Hawaii was sovereign from 1810 until 1893 when the monarchy was overthrown by resident American (and some European) businessmen. It was an independent republic from 1894 until 1898, when it was annexed by the United States as a territory, becoming a state in 1959.]

    This isn’t a happy accounting of American behavior in the late 19th and early 20th Century, but a simple fact of government policy. There is evidence of this behavior before and after the places I mention above.

    The mentality still exists in the 21st Century, so cover your hindquarters, Canada! Americans have tried to annex your territory many times in the past, and slipping that chunk of land between the Northern tier states and Alaska would make the map look a little neater in some minds!

    • tkmorin

      September 21, 2013 at 11:31 am

      I just love the way you round out my posts with other history connected to them. Keep ’em coming! 🙂

      I would so like to see Americans trying to get part of our land … Actually, I’d like to see what the Harper government would do, react, to such a move. LOL

  3. Maurice A. Barry

    September 21, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Fortunately we have many pictures of Laurier. Most people go with the ones taken after 1900, not the ones taken around when he first became the liberal leader. For some reason I found myself staring at this picture thinking, “he reminds me of someone…”
    It took a while but, while washing the breakfast dishes, streams of an old, familiar song from the 80’s started going through my mind; a fairly pleasant ear worm.
    Made me want to “SHOUT” the name…
    See here…
    At any rate, Laurier seems to have aged more gracefully.
    Besides, he never wanted to rule the world, just Canada 🙂

    Oh, and regarding reciprocity. Ummmm…in the 1980’s which party was it that brought about NAFTA? Laurier was probably spinning in his grave.

    • tkmorin

      September 21, 2013 at 10:33 am

      Oh, I love that song, “I want to rule the world”! Yep, it brought out the song in my head … I guess I’ll have it sit there for the day 🙂
      I believe Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is the one who brought about the NAFTA agreement.
      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment! Have a great day!

      • Maurice A. Barry

        September 21, 2013 at 10:42 am

        You are correct about BM. Ironic that conservatives later did pretty much what they brought down Laurier over 🙂 So, does Wilfred look like Roland O or what?

        • tkmorin

          September 21, 2013 at 10:44 am

          I wonder if DNA would reveal a little ancestry there!? LOL 🙂


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