19 December

Farmers vs. Protection

Protection is a monster when you come to look at it. It is the essence of injustice. It is the acme of human selfishness. It is one of the relics of barbarism.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        —ALEXANDER MACKENZIE, 1876

I denounce the policy of protection as bondage—yea, bondage; and I refer to bondage in the same manner in which American slavery was bondage.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            —SIR WILFRID LAURIER, 1894

Adequate protection is that which would at all times secure the Canadian market to Canadians in respect to all Canadian enterprises.

                                                                                                                                                     —SIR ROBERT BORDEN, 1904

When the workers of Canada wake up they will find that Protection is only

one among the several economic fangs fastened in their "corpus vile" by the

little group of railroad men, bankers, lumbermen and manufacturing monopolists who own their country.

                                                                                                                                            —J. A. HOBSON, 1906

At the beginning of the twentieth century Canada began to change from an agricultural to an industrial nation. As a result, there was an increased demand for tariff protection for industry.

The tariff question was important in Canadian politics for many years. With a low tariff, Canadian wheat, pulp, timber and other raw products would flow across the border to the States; American cars, machinery, household articles, clothes, canned food and other products would pour into Canada because they could be made more cheaply in the States. With a high tariff, raw products would be harder to sell abroad. Manufactured products would rise in price, but more of them would be made at home and there would be more industry, and therefore more employment.

High tariffs were supposed to "protect" young Canadian industries until they were able to stand on their own feet. What actually happened was that they made big profits for eastern manufacturers and financiers, while Canadian consumers paid higher prices to keep sometimes inefficient manufacturers in business. McGill economist Stephen Leacock wrote: "the huge infants" of Canadian industry "rolled off their mother's lap" but still they continued to receive the benefit of high tariff protection.

Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier began to feel the resentment of Canadian farmers when he visited the West in 1910. He was met by rural delegations who urged him to reduce tariffs and make a reciprocal trade agreement with the States. John Evans, a pioneer in the Saskatchewan Farmers' movement, asked him, "Sir Wilfrid, in 1896 you said you would skin the Tory bear of protection—now we want to know what you did with the hide."

Farmers' organizations had been growing in strength since December 19, 1883, when a farmers' union met at Winnipeg and drafted a Bill of Rights. It sent a delegation of three members to Ottawa, without satisfactory results, but it marked the beginning of "farmers' marches on Ottawa." Prime Minister Laurier was undoubtedly influenced by a delegation of 1,000 farmers who went to Ottawa on December 16, 1910, and demanded a revision of tariffs. He made the reciprocal trade agreement with the States that led to his defeat in the election of 1911 (see September 21).


19 December

-1813    James McGill died, leaving £10,000 for a university.

-1846    A telegraph line was opened between Toronto and Hamilton. Railway service did not begin until December, 1855.

-1854    Sir Edmund Walker Head was appointed Governor-General of Canada.

-1960    Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, Prime Minister of Malaya, visited Ottawa.