Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Federal election 11 and 12, 1908 and 1911: one big one

The 1908 federal election looks like one of the dullest on record.  Laurier ran on the snoozer slogan "Let Laurier finish his work," and got away with it, though his lead shrank (133 of 221 seats).

Not so in 1911. Both parties were in trouble, but, it turned out, the Liberals more so.  Laurier was now being successfully attacked in Quebec for being too anglophile: support for the Boer war, lack of support for French outside Quebec, willingness to surrender the Canadian navy to British control.  But the old accusation that he was too French also began to bite in English Canada, particularly over the same naval policy that was under attack in Quebec.

The Conservative leader was also in trouble.  Robert Borden had been Conservative leader since 1901, he had already lost two elections, and lots of Conservatives despaired of him.  In 1910 the Conservative caucus considered replacing him; in 1911 many Conservatives found his naval policy insufficiently pro-British, and some of them were kinda sympathetic to the new idea of free trade with the US, even though that was Laurier's policy.

In the 1911 election, however, Borden's shaky alliances held together and Laurier's collapsed.  In English Canada, the Liberal business community revolted over Laurier's reciprocity plan; they still wanted protection against American competition and a lot of the country agreed. In Quebec, Henri Bourassa had resisted making a formal political party out of his nationalist league (really Canadian nationalist rather than Quebec nationalist, though Bourassa's Canadian nationalism was much more bi-cultural and bilngual than most of English Canada was ready for).  The nationalists despised Laurier, however, so they flowed to the Conservative side in the election.  Borden swept English Canada and got 27 seats in Quebec.  Laurier's Quebec bridge had collapsed.  Borden got the numbers Laurier had had four years earlier: 133 of 221.  Suddenly the boring, unsuccessful opposition leader was the crisp, decisive leader -- we've seen that one a few times.
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