William Lyon Mackenzie King

By Robert Macgregor Dawson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIFTEEN
FIRST ADMINISTRATION, 1923

MACKENZIE KING had seized with commendable speed the opportunity offered by the Chanak crisis and the Lausanne Conference to advance the cause of Canadian autonomy, and had thereby established two valuable precedents. Should this be the model for him to follow in any future extension of Canadian powers? Should he await the appearance of suitable issues, and so undermine the Imperialist position by innovation and precedent that it would become a legal anomaly impossible to defend? Or would a better policy be for him to accept the advice of the more impatient autonomists1 and draft some simple but comprehensive formula, to be endorsed by Parliament, which would assert Canada's complete control over her external as well as her internal affairs?* At the time of the Chanak crisis he was "strongly tempted" to follow the latter alternative and make a declaration of policy on Canada's attitude in regard to participation in war, but "on reflection" he decided instead to wait and place a resolution on the subject before Parliament early the next session.2 This resolution was never introduced. King was doubtless afraid to move too far in advance of public opinion. He knew that a large number of people in Ontario and the Maritime Provinces were strongly in favour of maintaining a close connection with the United Kingdom and that Quebec also might take alarm at a declaration of constitutional change without any indication of the constitutional procedures by which the change was to

____________________
*
Sir Clifford Sifton suggested a declaration that "the governing powers of Canada as constituted by the British North America Act as amended and altered from time to time hereafter by the people of Canada, ought to possess under the British Crown the same powers with regard to Canada, its affairs and its people, as the Parliament of Great Britain possesses in regard to Great Britain, its affairs and its people"; Address given by Sir Clifford Sifton to the Canada First Club, Jan. 9, 1923. A motion in identical terms was moved (and later withdrawn) by J. S. Woodsworth in 1924 in the House; Can. H. of C. Debates, March 20, 1924, p. 508.

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