These commitments and considerations furnished the background to the drama of Laurier’s premiership. Much that took place on the fore-stage is only intelligible by taking a long vision of the whole setting. There was nothing of assertiveness or truculence in this steady movement by which Liberal policy and outlook was given a new orientation, Quebec replacing Ontario as the determinant. Students of politics can trace the changing influence through the fifteen years of Liberal rule, in legislation, in appointments and in administrative policies. One or two illustrations might be noted.
During the crisis of 1905 over the school provisions in the Autonomy bills erecting Alberta and Saskatchewan into provinces, Walter Scott, M.P., in a letter quoted by Professor Skelton, refers to the “almost unpardonable bungling” which had brought the crisis about. But Sir Wilfrid did not step into this difficulty by mischance. He knew precisely what he was doing though he did not foresee the consequences of his action because with all his experience and sagacity he never could foretell how political developments would react upon the English-Canadian mind. The educational provisions of the autonomy bill were designed to remove the still lingering resentment of Quebec over the settlement of the Manitoba school question and to further this purpose Sir Wilfrid indulged in his speech introducing these bills in that entirely gratuitous laudation of separate schools which had on Ontario and western Canadian opinion the enlivening effect of a match thrown into a powder barrel. This incident revealed not only the tendency of Laurier’s policy but illustrated the tactics which he had developed for achieving his ends in the face of opposition within the party. Upon occasions of this kind he was addicted to confronting his associates and followers with an accomplished fact, leaving no alternative to submission but a palace rebellion which he felt confident no one would attempt. By such methods he had already rounded several dangerous corners, as for instance his committing Canada to submit her case in the matter of the Alaska boundaries to a tribunal without an umpire—though it was the clearly understood policy of the Canadian government and the Canadian parliament to insist upon an umpire; and he resorted again to a stroke of this character in 1905. Professor Skelton’s story of the crisis is the official version, but there is another version which happens to be more authentic.
Following the general election of 1904, the government decided to deal without further delay with the matter of setting up the new provinces. It was known that there was danger of revival of the school question, for during the election campaign a Toronto newspaper had sought to make this an issue, contending that the delay in giving the provinces constitutions was due to the demand of the Roman Catholic church that they