Double Vision: Ernest Lapointe, Mackenzie King and the Quebec Voice in Canadian Foreign Policy, 1935-1939

Article excerpt

Many historians have argued that during the period from October 1935 to September 1939, when important international questions risked dividing anglophones and francophones in Canada, Ottawa maintained an impressive degree of unity. They credit Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King with the accomplishment, implying that he alone determined Canadian policy. The anglophone prime minister, however, needed help in understanding what francophones wanted and what they would accept. This help he received from his Quebec lieutenant Ernest Lapointe whose influence on Canadian foreign policy has been greatly underestimated. By threatening resignation, Lapointe guided the more imperialist King through three particularly explosive situations: the Ethiopian crisis, the Munich crisis and the formulation of Ottawa's "no-neutrality-no-conscription" pact.

Plusieurs historien/nes affirment que pendant la periode d'octobre 1935 a septembre 1939, alors que d'importantes questions internationales risquaient de diviner anglophones et francophones au Canada, Ottawa reussit a maintenir un degre d'unite impresnionant. On attribue souvent cet accomplissement au premier ministre William Lyon Mackenzie King, signifiant ainsi que lui seul aurait determine la politique canadienne. Or le premier ministre anglophone await besoin d'aide pour evaluer ce que les francophones voulaient, et ce qu'ils/elles accepteraient. Ernest Lapointe, le bras droit quebecois de Mackenzie King et dont l'influence sur la politique canadienne etrangere a ete fortement soul-estimee, apporta cette aide. En menacant de demissionner, Lapointe guida King, qui etait plus imperaliste, a travers trois situations particulierement explosives: la trine ethiopienne, la crise de Munich et la formulation du pacte d'Ottawa base sur le principe du "pas de neutralitY, pas de conscription."

I think I may claim to be responsible in no small measure for the unity of Canada at this time and certainly for the united manner in which the country has entered the war at the side of Britain.

Mackenzie King, in his diary, 31 December 1939.

Most historians studying Canadian foreign policy from October 1935 to September 1939 have emphasized William Lyon Mackenzie King's talent for maintaining unity. International events threatened to involve Canada in a major European war and because anglophones, much more than francophones, were eager to support Britain, such involvement could have seriously divided Canadians. And yet Mackenzie King, from the moment his Liberal party defeated R.B. Bennett's Conservatives, was able to lead a surprisingly united country through these difficult times and into the Second World War. Some francophones argue that Quebec's voice was not heard in King's foreign policy and that the anglophone majority repeatedly humiliated the minority that consistently opposed the pro-British policies.1 Some anglophones consider that King paid too much attention to the Quebec voice and allowed it to dominate Canadian policy.2 Most historians, however, seem to accept that Canada went to war united and that for this unity King was responsible.3

An element common to almost all interpretations is the assumption that King, practically on his own, determined Canadian foreign policy. "Although he consulted people in a very narrow circle," N. Hillmer and J.L. Granatstein have written, "Mackenzie King made the Canadian foreign policy decisions alone." C.P Stacey, John Herd Thompson and Allen Seager agree that to a remarkable degree Canada's external policy between the two world wars was Mackenzie King's personal creation.4 Most historians also imply that King knew not only what the English-speaking majority but also the French-speaking minority wanted and skilfully succeeded in accommodating both groups.5 If this were true, King's accomplishment would indeed be extraordinary.

Could a unilingual anglophone alone have such success (greater success than any bilingual prime minister) interpreting the voice of Francophone Quebec and incorporating it into Canadian policy? …