Ordeal by Fire: Canada, 1910-1945

By Ralph Allen | Go to book overview

V
An obnoxious young man named Winston Churchill--The defeat of the naval bill

SIR WILFRID LAURIER on the morrow of the 1911 election looked a tragic figure--frail, just two months short of seventy, not quite so erect as he once had been, a badly beaten old man. But his own assessment of his position was far more cheerful. He made a perfunctory attempt to resign as leader of the Liberal party but yielded to the overwhelming and partly desperate demands of his supporters that he stay. Very shortly he was boasting to a banquet audience: "I don't feel ripe for heaven, and at all events I want another tussle with the Tories."

In this tussle he now had the advantage of being able to choose his weapons. Of the government's program he could accept what he chose to accept and oppose what he chose to oppose. The selection gave him little trouble. He was far too good a politician not to acknowledge that he had been trounced, and soundly trounced, on reciprocity, and the less said about that for the time being, the better. On the second big issue, the naval service bill, he had been trounced too, but now the very flail that bore his bloodstains lay at his feet, ready for picking up. His late tormentor stood before him, as naked to attack as he himself so recently had been.

For the first time in fifteen years Laurier had the advantages of opposition. He was unencumbered by the grotesquely impossible task of putting into effect a naval policy that could be acceptable to both the Quebec Nationalists and the Ontario Imperialists. He barely waited until the new king was seated before he gave the Damoclean sword a joyful twang. When he rose to reply to the Speech from the Throne, after Parliament had reassembled, Sir Wilfrid wondered wistfully why the speech had made no mention

-43-

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