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III

The Conference of 1920 was held at the Parliament Buildings, Ottawa. A month or so before it met, the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, had retired through ill-health. His successor, Mr. Meighan, welcomed the delegates. A quiet, spare-looking man between forty and fifty years of age, the new Prime Minister spoke deliberately and almost hesitatingly. His words were brief and to the point. It was true when he said: “As you pass through Canada you will find no disappointment in all you have been led to expect of the resources and hospitality of the people. You will find the bone and sinew very sound, the


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blood red and pure. You won't locate anything unhealthy in the body commercial.”

The leader of the Opposition, Mr. William Lyon McKenzie King, was also present. Like the Premier, he is a lawyer, and was then in the prime of middle age. We were interested to learn, as a striking example of Canada's changed attitude towards Britain, that his maternal grandfather, William Lyon McKenzie, in 1837 took up arms with the idea of establishing a republic, and led an armed revolt against the domination of a clique of ruling officials called “The Family Compact.” The revolt quickly collapsed and the leader fled to the United States. Later he was amnestied, and, having been cured of his love for republican institutions, he re-entered public life, in which before the revolt he had been a member of Parliament and a prominent figure. He was again elected to the Legislature. History describes him as turbulent and ungovernable, often the dupe of schemers, but he could neither be bribed, bullied nor cajoled. Though a poor man, he refused from Lord Goderick an offer of a position of influence with a salary of £1,500. The evils against which he struggled were real and grave, and he hastened their reform. It is a curious reflection that the grandson of a rebel leader, for whose head a price was offered, should be later the Prime Minister of Canada.

Mr. McKenzie King suggested an alteration in the title of the Conference from “Imperial” to “British.” He admitted there may be reasons for preferring the word “imperial,” but added: “With the struggles of the recent past, the word ‘imperial’ has come to denote a kind of centralisation in all matters of


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organisation and in method, autocracy rather than democracy, and as such is not adequately expressive of the spirit of the several democracies that comprise the nations of the British Commonwealth. The word ‘British,’ on the other hand, is suggestive of spirit rather than form. It speaks of an attitude that is synonymous with freedom, justice and liberty, fair play and right, and as such it tends to give a larger and finer meaning and significance to everything with which it is associated. Moreover, it is all-embracing and world-encircling, and it is, above all else, distinctive.”

With the approval of the Conference, Lord Burnham declared that, in spite of what Mr. McKenzie King had said, they would stick to their name. “We are proud of Britain,” said he, “but not ashamed of the Empire. It stands for liberty and equality, and has nothing in common with ramshackle empires of the past. The reason we have adopted our name is because we include in our membership nations that are not British. There are representatives in this Conference from the Empire of India and the colony of Malta.”

To many delegates the word “British” could scarcely be as acceptable as “imperial.” The term “British” and the talk of a “blood bond” could not be a strong reason for imperial unity to delegates such as Dr. Bartolo of Malta, Mr. de Lisser of Jamaica, Mr. Levi, a South African Dutchman, and Mr. Ollemans of Bloemfontein. In addition, there were representatives of more than two million French-speaking Canadians.

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