liability basis. In the very height of the controversy
Sir Wilfrid could not be got to go beyond saying that
Canada should make enquiries as to how many men she
could afford to spare from her industries and these
she should send if they could be induced voluntarily
to enlist. This was wholly unsatisfactory to those
who held that Canada was a principal in the war, and
must shrink from no sacrifices to make victory possible.
Still less satisfactory was the professed attitude
of the Liberal candidates in Quebec; with few exceptions
they embraced the anti-war Nationalist programme.
It became only too evident that a Liberal victory
would mean a government dependent upon and controlled
by a Quebec bloc pretty thoroughly committed to the
view that Canada had “done enough.”
For those committed to the prosecution of the war
to the limit, conscription became a test and a symbol;
and ultimately the pressure forced reluctant politicians
to come together in the Union government. There
followed the general election and the Unionist sweep.
Laurier returned to parliament with a following of
eighty-two in a house of 235. Of these 62 came
from Quebec; and nine from the Maritime provinces.
From the whole vast expanse from the Ottawa river
to the Pacific Ocean ten lone Liberals were elected;
of these only two represented the west, that part
of Canada where Liberal ideas grow most naturally
and freely. The policy of shaping national programmes
to meet sectional predilections, relying upon party
discipline and the cultivation of personal loyalties
to serve as substitutes elsewhere had run its full
course—and this was the harvest!
The events of 1917 were both an end and a beginning
in Canada’s political development. They
brought to a definite close what might be called the
era of the Great Parties. Viscount Bryce, in a
work based upon pre-war observations, in dealing with
Canadian political conditions, said:
“Party (in Canada) seems to exist for its own
sake. In Canada ideas are not needed to make
parties, for these can live by heredity, and, like
the Guelfs and Ghibellines of mediaeval Italy, by memories
of past combats; attachment to leaders of such striking
gifts and long careers as were Sir John Macdonald
and Sir Wilfrid Laurier, created a personal loyalty
which exposed a man to reproach as a deserter when
he voted against his party.”
For these conditions there were reasons in our history.
Our parties once expressed deep divergencies of view
upon issues of vital import; and each had experienced
an individual leadership that had called forth and
had stereotyped feelings of unbounded personal devotion.
The chiefships of Laurier and Macdonald overlapped
by only four years, but they were of the same political
generation and they adhered to the same tradition.
The resemblances in their careers, often commented
upon, arose from a common attitude towards the business