Beyond the City Limits: Rural History in British Columbia

By R. W. Sandwell | Go to book overview

3 An Early Rural Revolt: The Introduction of the Canadian System of Tariffs to British Columbia, 1871-4

Daniel P. Marshall

I feel perfectly sure, Sir, that if Confederation should come, bringing with it the Tariff of Canada, not only will the farmers be ruined, but our independence will be taken away; it will deprive our local industries of the protection now afforded them, and will inflict other burdens upon them; it will not free trade and commerce from the shackles which now bind them, and will deprive the Government of the power of regulating and encouraging those interests upon which the prosperity of the Colony depends. There can be no permanent or lasting union with Canada, unless terms be made to promote and foster the material and pecuniary interests of this Colony... I am opposed to Confederation, because it will not serve to promote the industrial interests of this Colony, but on the contrary, it will serve to ruin many, and thus be detrimental to the interest and progress of the country. I say that Confederation will be injurious to the Farmers, because protection is necessary to enable them to compete with farmers of the United States. The [Canadian] Tariff and Excise Laws do not supply that.

--Dr. John Sebastion Helmcken1

The introduction of the Canadian tariff structure to British Columbia, shortly after Confederation in 1872, is perhaps one of the most significant, yet neglected, topics of historical investigation of British Columbia's formative years. In the absence of clear political party lines or other legislative alignments, historians have opted for tantalizing, epic illustrations of British Columbia's past that have failed to include discussion of the all-important tariff question. 2 In both late colonial and early provincial history, we have usually been offered the 'struggle' for responsible government against the 'tyrannical' family-company compact; or the parochial battles between fledgling colonies forced by the mother country into a kind of incestuous marriage of convenience or, perhaps most often, the great commercial race for railway supremacy and the coveted prize of a Pacific entrepôt for the allred route. 3 Allan Smith is quite correct in stating that British Columbia historians, on the whole, 'maintained a peculiar blind spot when it came to

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