Government of Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

CHAPTER 3: The Issues Crystallize

Canadians in South Africa (3 pages)

Political Dissentions

Those opposing the prime minister's decision, most of them French Canadians, were quick to voice their disagreement and rally round the journalist Henri Bourassa. Bourassa's strong personality and ideas enabled him to publicly criticize Laurier - whom he had always supported - for giving in. He even predicted this was nothing compared to what would follow. If Canada could send 1,000 men to South Africa, how many would it be sending had the war been in Europe? Bourassa saw British imperialism as "the participation of the colonies in England's wars." [36]

Taking up Bourassa's cause in 1903, the English Canadian Goldwin Smith would recall that the purpose of the South African war had been to secure equality for the white, mainly British, uitlanders, to whom the Boers were refusing the right to vote. "This is a strange doctrine in an Empire with a population composed five sixths of coloured races and which allies itself with Japan." [37] On 29 April 1910, when another large project with imperialist repercussions, the Naval Bill, was being discussed, Senator Raoul Dandurand would recall that the official cause of the war in Africa, namely redress for wrongs meted out to English residents, was not the real one: "I frankly confess that this dispute aroused no enthusiasm in me, but we had nothing to say before the a air, and when war was declared the time for discussion had passed." [38]

Despite the powerful opposition movement among French Canadians, Wilfrid Laurier's Liberals were re-elected on 7 November 1900 with strong support from Quebec voters. Was this approval of imperialist policy? In another context the French Canadians might have voiced disapproval, but Laurier's nuanced response struck them as preferable to that of Charles Tupper's Conservatives, pledged as the Tories were to support British policies. In the end, the opposition to this war benefited the Liberals, but now they would have to reckon with Henri Bourassa and the Quebec nationalists elected to Parliament, for they would be continuing their campaign against participation in the war, in however watered-down a form.

In Quebec, and especially in Montreal, the situation rekindled ethnic tensions. On 1 and 2 March 1900 a group of Anglophones, including a number of McGill University students, marched in celebration of the Canadian victory at Paardeberg. They smashed the windows of the French-language newspapers La Presse, La Patrie and Le journal and wrecked some of Université Laval's Montreal offices. Although these tensions subsided after the 1900 federal election, they nonetheless would remain latent until the First World War.