Colonial Conference in Canada

In assuming the responsible duties which devolve upon the president of a conference of so important a character as the one now assembled, I cannot but express my humble appreciation of the high honour thus conferred, and further to express the hope that in discharging the duties of presiding officer my actions may be such as to meet with the approval of all assembled to take part in the consideration of the important questions which are expected to come before you.

It is with exceeding regret that I have to apologize for the absence of our Finance Minister, Mr. Foster, who was appointed with Sir Adolphe Caron and myself, but is unable to be present on account of illness. The strain of the session, and the rearrangement of the tariff, which is composed of some 900 items, has entailed a great amount of work upon him. He is at present suffering from an attack of lumbago, or nervous prostration; but we shall have the benefit of his valuable services, I hope, in a day or two.

It is exceedingly gratifying to the Government of Canada, to witness the great interest which has been manifested not only in the self-governing colonies of Her Britannic Majesty, but in England, in the meeting together of representatives from different portions of the British Empire for the purpose of discussing questions of vital importance to their future development and all that contributes to a nation’s greatness.

At no period in the history of the Empire could the words placed in the Queen’s Speech on the prorogation of Parliament in 1886, when it was proposed to hold the first Colonial Conference, be repeated with greater truth than at the present moment. Time has only intensified the force of the utterance which Her Gracious Majesty then made, when she was pleased to say:»I have observed with much satisfaction the interest which in an increasing degree is evinced by the people of this country in the welfare of their Colonial and Indian fellow subjects; and I am led to the conviction that there is on all sides a growing desire to draw closer in every practical way the bonds which unite the various portions of the Empire.»

The first statement is verified by the fact that we have present a representative of imperial authority to take part in our deliberations; and the second has a practical illustration of its correctness in the fact that delegates are present form various colonies to consider and adopt measures which have for their object the drawing closer together in a perpetual bond of kinship those subjects of Her Majesty whose lot has been cast in different parts of her great Empire.

The present conference does not meet, as has been stated in some of the public journals, for the purpose of discussing imperial politics or imperial foreign policy, further than they affect the material welfare and well-being of the different British colonies in general, in matters of trade, and that which is incident thereto, cable connection between all parts of the British Empire without touching upon foreign soil.

This conference is the direct outcome of the policy of the Canadian Government in its efforts to extend trade in every direction, more particularly with its sister colonies. With that end in view, as an initial step and as an evidence of the interest taken therein by the representatives of the Canadian people, a subsidy was voted by parliament in aid of a direct steamship service between Canada and Australia. This having been accomplished and the service fairly inaugurated, the Minister of Trade and Commerce was, on the authority of an Order in Council passed on the 7th of September, 1893, «requested to proceed to Australia as soon as possible to confer with the several governments there, with a view to promote the extension of trade between Australia and Canada, also to confer with those governments on the subject of a telegraph connecting Canada with Australia.» Under and by this authority the minister proceeded at once to Australia and after conferences with the governments of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia ; and after having communicated by letter with the Premiers of New Zealand, Tasmania, Western Australia and Fiji, the governments of all which entered most earnestly into the projects, it was deemed advisable, owing to the fact that most of the colonial legislatures were then in session, that a Conference composed of delegates from the different colonies should be held in Canada at as early a period as convenient. In confirmation of this view, the Earl of Hopetoun, Governor of Victoria, in proroguing Parliament in November, 1893, said:»The visit to Australia of the Honourable Mackenzie Bowell, the Canadian Minister of Trade and Commerce, as a Delegate from the Dominion Government, is an event of interest. It illustrates the unity under the Crown of the numerous distinct governments which constitute the British Empire ; and the purpose of the visit which is to establish trade relations between Canada and Australia, marks the practical nearness of otherwise distant communities.»

His Lordship then added:

It has been suggested that the object in view would be attained by a conference in Canada of Australasain representatives with the Government of the Dominion. Should such a conference be arranged due provision will be made for the representation of this colony on the occasion.

Upon the return of the minister to Canada and the result of his mission being reported to his colleagues, an Order in Council was passed of which the following is a copy:

On a report dated 5th of February, 1894, from the Minister of Trade and Commerce submitting the following recommendation relating to trade and cable communication between Canada and Australia :

1. In order to cultivate and increase trade relations between Canada and Australia an Act was passed (Act 52 Vic., chap. 2, 1889) intitled: An Act relating to Ocean Steamship Subsidies, authorizing the granting of a subsidy of not exceeding the sum of £25,000 sterling per annum, to assist in establishing an effective fortnightly steamship service between British Columbia and the Australian Colonies and New Zealand.
2. Chapter 2, 52 Victoria, was amended by Act 56 Victoria, Chapter 5 (1893), so far as to authorize the granting of a subsidy of not exceeding the sum of £25,000 sterling per annum to assist in establishing an effective monthly or more frequent steamship service between British Columbia and the Australian Colonies and New Zealand.
3. Under this authority a contract was entered into between the Minister of Trade and Commerce on behalf of Her Majesty, and James Huddart of the city of London, in England, bearing date the 1st day of May, 1893, providing for a monthly or more frequent service between Vancouver, B.C. and Sydney, N.S.W., under the terms of which steamships of the capacity agreed upon were place on the route, the first one sailing from Sydney the 18th May, 1893.
4. On the 7th September, 1893 an Order in Council was passed authorizing the Minister of Trade and Commerce to proceed to Australia and confer with the several governments, with a view to promote an extension of trade between Australia and Canada, and also to confer with the said government on the subject of a telegraphic cable to connect Canada with Australia and New Zealand.
5. The Minister of Trade and Commerce on the 7th September, 1893, proceeded to Australia, and had conference and communication with the governments of the several colonies on the subjects referred to in the said Order in Council of the 7th September, 1893, at which it was suggested, and a decision was arrived at between the Minister of Trade and Commerce and the Premiers of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and South Australia, that it was important that a conference should be held at as early a date as would be most convenient, in the city of Ottawa, Canada, for the purpose of discussing the arrangements which might be considered the most desirable for the purpose of carrying out the objects in view.
6. The minister recommends that the governments of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, and Fiji be respectfully requested to appoint and send one or more delegates to meet at Ottawa, on Thursday, the 21st day of June, 1894, for the purpose of considering the trade relations existing between Canada and their respective countries, and the best means of extending the same and of securing the construction of a direct telegraphic cable between those colonies and the Dominion of Canada.
The minister further recommends that the government of the Cape of Good Hope be invited to take part in the deliberations of the conference herein referred to.
7. The minister also recommends that the British Government be requested to take part in their conference by sending a delegate or by such other means as may be considered advisable, inasmuch as the object is of an imperial as well as a colonial character.

The committee, concurring in the above recommendation, advise that your Excellency be moved to transmit a certified copy of this minute to Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for the colonies.

The committee further advise that your Excellency be also moved to transmit certified copies to the Governors of the various colonies herein referred to, and to the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope.

All of which is respectfully submitted for your Excellency’s approval.

(Sgd.) JOHN J. McGEE
Clerk of the Privy Council

To this invitation the imperial, and the majority of the colonial governments communicated with, gave a favourable response, as evidence of the fact delegates are now present to consider and devise the best and most feasible means of bringing about the objects in view, viz., of developing trade interests, not the least of which is cable communication between all the different portions of the Empire. It is to be regretted that Western Australia and Fiji were not able to send representatives; important state duties, which could not be postponed, having prevented. Sir John B. Thurston, Governor of Fiji, though not here, assured me in a letter explaining has absence, that he was in full sympathy with the objects for which we have met.

Before drawing attention to the important subjects, which among others may receive the special consideration of the conference, it is desirable that I should inform those present that on my return from Australia last December, the steamer called at Honolulu, the capital of the Hawaiian Islands, where through the intervention of the president of the Provisional Government, I addressed the members of the Chamber of Commerce upon the subject of more extended trade between those islands, Canada and Australasia, as did also Mr. Hoyle, a member of the New South Wales Legislature.

At the same time I informed the chamber of the proposed conference to meet here, and extended an invitation to it to send a representative. A committee was appointed to consider the subject, and as a result we are glad to welcome Theo. H. Davies, Esq., British consul at Honolulu, as a representative of that body, who visits us with a view to consider how and in what way trade may be best encouraged between the Hawaiian Islands and the British Colonies.

In discussing with the premiers of the different colonies the subject of more extended trade relations between Canada and Australia by means of a modification of tariffs, I found the provisions of the Constitution Acts under which the different Australian Colonies are governed would not permit of the adoption of a policy of differential tariffs in favour of any other portions of the Empire, that while each colony had the authority under their Constitution Act to discriminate against each other, that power did not extend beyond the limits of Australia. In order that this may be made clear, I quote from the Constitution Act of Queensland, as follows:

Subject to the provisions of this Act and notwithstanding any Act or Acts of the imperial parliament now in force to the contrary it shall be lawful for the legislature of the colony to impose and levy such duties of customs as to them may seem fit in the importation into the colony of any goods, wares and merchandise whatsoever, whether the produce of or exported from the United Kingdom or any of the colonies or dependencies of the United Kingdom or any foreign country.

Provided always that no new duty shall be imposed upon the importation into the said colony of any article the produce or manufacture of or imported from any particular country or place which shall not be equally imposed on the importation into the said colony of the like article the produce or manufacture of or exported from all other countries and places whatsoever.

No such provision is found in the Constitution Act of Canada nor any other provision which can hamper the action of the Canadian Government in respect of its trade policy ; but restrictions do exist in certain treaties entered into between England and Foreign powers which bind all the colonies to terms and conditions respecting most-favoured nation treatment ; that, in 1862, between Great Britian and Belgium, contains the following clause:

XV. Articles the produce or manufacture of Belgium shall not be subject in the British colonies to other or higher duties than those which are or may be imposed upon similar articles of British origin.

And in the treaty of commerce between Great Britain, Prussia and the Zollverein (Luxemburg, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Anhalt, Waldeck and Pyrmont, Lippe, Bavaria, Saxony, Hanover, Schaumburg, Wurtemburg, Baden, Hesse-Cassel, Hesse-Darmstadt, and the States forming the Customs and Commercial Union of Thuringia, viz., the Grand Duchy of Saxony, Saxe-Meiningen, Saxe-Altenburg, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, Schwartz-burg-Sondershausen, Reuss-Greitz, Reuss-Schleitz, Brunswick, Oldenburg, Nassau and Frankfort), signed in the English and German language, at Berlin, May 30, 1865, clause VII provides:

The stipulations of the preceding Articles I to VI shall also be applied to the colonies and foreign possessions of Her Britannic Majesty. In those colonies and possessions the produce of the states of the Zollverein shall not be subject to any higher or other import duties than the produce of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, or of any other country, of the like kind; nor shall the exportation from those colonies or possessions to the Zollverein be subject to any higher or other duties than the exportation to the United Kingdom of great Britain and Ireland.

It will be seen that these provisions make each British Colony a party to what is known as the «most-favoured nation clause,» whether such provisions are in their interest commercially or not.

The practical effect of the provisions in the treaties from which these quotations are made has been to restrict and impede to a certain extent that freedom of action in legislating upon tariff and commercial affairs, which all self-governing colonies should possess in so far as relates to the management of their internal affairs, and external relations with sister colonies or foreign nations when not inimical to imperial interests.

So strong was the feeling of the people of Canada upon this question that the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, during the session of 1892, on the motion of Sir John Abbott, then premier, unanimously adopted the following address to Her most Gracious Majesty:

To the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty:
Most Gracious Sovereign:

We, your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, in Parliament assembled, humbly request that Your Majesty may be graciously pleased to take into consideration the position of Canada in respect of certain important matters affecting its trade relations with the Empire, and with foreign nations.

Your memorialists desire in the first place, to draw attention to certain stipulations in the existing treaties with Belgium and with the German Zollverein, ordinarily referred to as the ‘most-favoured nation» clauses, which are extended to other countries whose commercial treaties with Great Britain contain a ‘most-favoured nation’ clause, and which apply to British Colonies. By Art. XV. of the treaty with Belgium, entered into in 1862, Canada is compelled to admit all articles, the produce or manufacture of Belgium, at the same, or at no higher, rate of duty, than is imposed upon similar articles of British origin. And in the treaty with the German Zollverein, entered into in 1865, it is stipulated that the produce of those states shall not be subject to any higher or other import duties than the produce of the United Kingdom or any other country of the like kind ; and that the exports to those states shall not be subject to any higher duties than exports to the United Kingdom.

Your memorialists consider that these provisions in treaties with foreign powers are incompatible with the rights and powers subsequently conferred by the British North America Act upon the Parliament of Canada, for the regulation of the trade and commerce of the Dominion ; and that their continuance in force tends to produce complications and embarrassments in such an Empire as that under the rule of your Majesty, wherein the self-governing colonies are recognized as possessing the right to define their respective fiscal relations to all foreign nations, to the mother country, and to each other.

Your memorialists further believe, that in view of the foreign fiscal policy of increasingly protective and discriminative duties, it is clearly adverse to the interests of the United Kingdom, and of each and all of its possessions, that the Parliament of the United Kingdom, or of any of your Majesty’s self-governing colonies, should be thus restricted in the power of adopted such modifications of its tariff arrangements as may be required for the promotion of its trade or its defence against aggressive or injurious measures of foreign policy.

Your memorialists desire also to point out that the immense resources of the Dominion in its facilities, and its lumber, require for their profitable development the largest practicable extension of its markets, more especially in countries whose native supply of such productions is limited, while its rapidly developing manufacturing industries demand large and increasing supplies of raw material, to be mainly supplied by countries which are extensive consumers of the productions of Canada. Your memorialists believe that among the countries with which such an interchange of traffic takes place, the British Empire holds the highest rank in amount, and from its diversity of climate and productions affords the widest prospect of rapid, and practically limitless increase, while the trade of the Dominion with the United States is second only to that with the British Empire, and its development and extension are of great importance to us ; though, from the similarity of most of the products of the two countries, it is probably not susceptible of so great an expansion as might be effected in the interchange of traffic with the Empire.

Your memorialists earnestly desire to foster and extend the trade of the Dominion with the Empire, with its great neighbour, the United States, and with other countries throughout the world, wherever opportunity offers and believe that by mutual concessions, and the adoption of measures for the rearrangement of trade relations between the various portions of the British Empire, and between the Empire and foreign nations, important and lasting beneficial results may be attained, and that to the way of the attainment of these great objects, the continuation of the restrictions imposed upon Canada and other portions of the Empire by the so-called favoured nations clause creates an unnecessary and unjustifiable obstruction.

The Senate and House of Commons therefore humbly request your Majesty to take such steps as may be necessary to denounce and terminate the provisions referred to in the treaties with the German Zollverein, and with the Kingdom of Belgium.

The demands made in the foregoing address mark «no new departure by Canada from the hitherto accepted traditions and practices of the colonies regarding their relation in matters of trade and commerce with the United Kingdom.» Though Great Britain has not yet acceded to the requests of Canada as expressed in that address, it is gratifying to know that no treaty between Great Britain and any foreign power is finally ratified, binding Canada to its provisions, without her consent is first asked and obtained.

The earnest and careful attention of the conference is directed to these two most important points ; the abrogation of which by Great Britain is absolutely necessary before the paramount objects which the colonies have in view can be successfully accomplished.

It is not, I am sure, the desire nor the intention of any colony to adopt a policy of discrimination against the mother country, nor should it do so, but each colony has the right to ask and to receive from the Imperial Authorities the removal of the barriers which now exist preventing full and unrestricted action in dealing with tariff matters in such a manner as will best serve, first, the interests of its people ; and second, the interest of the Empire as a whole. This is the more necessary when we consider the rapid development of trade in each colony, as evinced by the increase that annually presents itself. A comparative statement of the imports and exports of eighteen colonies for the years 1882 and 1892, gives the following results:

Latest Returns at our command show the value of Imports and Exports to be for 1882 and 1892 as follows:

Giving a total in 1892 of $2,074,660,554, of which the Australasian Colonies contributed $594,841,373, and Canada $241,269,443, or a total of $836,210,814 ; but it must be borne in mind that a portion of the exports and imports of Australia are intercolonial, while in Canada under confederation, interprovincial trade is not included in her exports or imports.

A large portion of the above trade is with foreign powers which, by a judicious adjustment of tariffs might be diverted into British channels ; this is therefore deserving of the earnest and careful consideration of those who have the general consolidation of the Empire at heart.

The accomplishment of this great object could, I humbly submit, be attained by each colony retaining perfect autonomy as regards its tariff rates, whether on a basis of free trade or protection, with the one sole restriction, that on all articles on which duties are charged, uniform preferential rates on direct importations shall be accorded to all members of a confederation to be founded for that purpose and to the mother country should she desire to form part of such confederation, as against the rest of the world.

To accomplish this the Imperial Government should be respectfully called upon to terminate all existing treaties to the contrary, at the earliest date possible.

This being attained a joint commission might be appointed to form nomenclature of tariffs so as to insure uniformity of practice in respect to assessments of duties as well as classifications for statistical purposes.

Uniform practice with reference to values for duty and for statistics.

A uniform statistical period and an interchange of statistical, commercial and trade blue-books, as issued.

As a means of ensuring success in the consideration of subsidies for promoting trade relations between the different members of the confederation.

Pertinent to this proposition is cable connection not alone with Australia, but with all colonies which form part of this tariff union-and it is to be hoped that all of Her Majesty’s possessions will in due time be incorporated therein-all on a basis of direct British or Colonial control, and touching at or on British territory only.

An extension to Honk Kong of the proposed line between Canada and Australia is under the provisions of the agreement entered into between the Most Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Eastern Extension, Australasia and Chin Telegraph Company, Limited, bearing date the 28th of October last, rendered easy of accomplishment at a moderate cost, while another important link in the grand chain, viz., from Canada via Bermuda to the various British West India Islands is at present under contemplation.

Upon the subject, however, of the importance of cable extension between the outlying portion of the Empire, on the Pacific, it is but necessary to call attention to the proceedings of the Colonial Conference held in London, in 1887, and to subsequent papers upon the subject, all of which will be laid before you.

Correlative to the subject of cable communication and none the less important is that of the increased postal facilities under exclusively British control which the lines of swift communication already inaugurated and those in contemplation will provide, to which no doubt your attention will be directed with a view to the devising of means for further extension and efficiency.

The question of the copyright laws as they effect the colonies is a subject of such importance as to warrant careful consideration. It is not, however, at this moment necessary for me to enter into details upon this subject as fully as its importance demands, from the fact that I shall be enabled to lay before you the report of the Right Hon. Sir John Thompson, Premier and Minister of Justice of Canada, in which he deals fully with the subject ; his report has been approved by the Governor in Council.

Having as briefly as possible, consistent with their importance, enumerated such subjects for consideration as have occurred to me as being of interest to all of Her Majesty’s possessions, here represented, I leave for those specially interested therein the presentation of other subjects of interest to individual colonies, some of which may prove to be even greater factors in the working out of the paramount problem, that of the consolidation by the drawing together and binding more closely on the basis of the greatest good to all of the geographically separate portions of the one great Empire, all of which I humbly trust will receive the most earnest and careful consideration of those here assembled.