Government of Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

CHAPTER 3: The Issues Crystallize

The Militia Council (3 pages)

Command of the Militia Reconsidered

In most countries of the world civil-military relations are a source of various problems. In Canada, especially after Confederation, these were exacerbated by the British presence in running the defence system, which brought Canadian and imperial interests into the mix. An example of this was Hutton's meddling in the political process to propel Canada into the South African war. During his time in Canada, Hutton had also suggested measures that would have reduced the powers of the deputy minister and Canadian civil authorities in general. His proposals, which would have enabled him to approach the minister directly without going through the deputy minister, were received all the more reservedly in that Hutton was often lacking in tact. He was known to choose the officers to be sent on courses and to involve himself in remount contracts and a number of areas where the minister and, traditionally, patronage reigned supreme. The General Officer Commanding had no hesitation in openly proclaiming the faults and weakness of the militia. In the face of a history of such conduct, his relations with Frederick Borden came to the breaking point over Hutton's plan to mobilize the militia for South Africa.

The fact that Laurier had more or less put Hutton's proposal into effect did nothing to ease the resentment of the General Officer Commanding, which the prime minister and Borden continued to nurse. When Hutton formed a commission to buy horses for the second contingent, Laurier insisted that he be recalled. Lord Minto would attempt to protect Hutton but soon bowed to Laurier's resolve. Hutton never seemed to comprehend - and he was not alone in this - that he was merely the advisor to his minister and the government on military affairs. He acted as if he were the commander of the militia, almost totally free of politics.

The demands voiced in the House to make the General Officer Commanding a Canadian position would become more numerous and insistent. From 1900 to 1902, British Major-General R.H. O'Grady Haly occupied that office with all the diplomacy called for in the circumstances and implemented some of the reforms Hutton had suggested. In 1902 he was replaced by Major-General the Earl of Dundonald, a cavalryman who had built his reputation in South Africa with gallantry, daring, joviality and modesty. Dundonald's friends had advised him to refuse a position that had become increasingly unhealthy for its incumbents, but in the end, despite some clear reservations, he accepted. In London he was coached about avoiding blunders. Upon reaching Canada, he took command of a defence system viewed as a necessary evil by the local politicians.