The campaign absolutely vindicated the tactical foresight of Tarte. A good deal might be said about that campaign if space were available. But one or two features of it may be noted. In the English provinces great play was made with Father Lacombe’s minatory letter to Laurier, sent while the issue was trembling in the balance in parliament: “If the government . . is beaten . . I inform you with regret that the episcopacy, like one man, united with the clergy, will rise to support those who may have fallen in defending us.” In his Reminiscences, Sir John Willison speculates as to how this letter, so detrimental to the government in Ontario, got itself published. Professor Skelton says boldly that it was “made public through ecclesiastical channels.” It would be interesting to know his authority for this statement. The writer of this article says it was published as the result of a calculated indiscretion by the Liberal board of strategy. As it was through his agency that publication of the letter was sought and secured, it will be agreed that he speaks with knowledge. It does not, of course, follow that Laurier was a party to its publication.
The campaign of 1896 was on both sides lively, violent and unscrupulous. The Conservatives had two sets of arguments; and so had the Liberals. Those of us who watched the campaign in Quebec at close range know that not much was said there by the Liberals about the high crime of coercing a province. Instead, stress was laid upon the futility and inadequacy of the proposed remedial legislation; upon the high probability that more could be got for the minority by negotiation; upon the suggestion that, negotiation failing, remedial legislation that would really accomplish something could still be invoked. This argument, plus the magic of Laurier’s personality and Tarte’s organizing genius, did the business. Futile the sniping of the cures; vain the broadsides of the bishops; empty the thunders of the church! Quebec went to the polls and voted for Laurier. Elsewhere the government just about held its own despite the burden of its remedial policy; but it was buried under the Quebec avalanche. The Liberals took office sustained by the 33 majority from the province which had once been the citadel of political Conservatism.
“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings;
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.”
Wilfrid Laurier was Prime Minister of Canada from July 9, 1896, to October 6, 1911, fifteen years and three months, which, for the Dominion, is a record. Sir John Macdonald was Premier of the Dominion of Canada for over nineteen years, but this covered two terms separated by five years of Liberal rule.