The Canadian federal election of 1911 was the last one held before the start of World War I. It was an election that would determine the future of the nation, the politicians claimed, and it was filled with rhetoric and mudslinging.
The Parties Involved
The 1911 election was a preview of the dirty 1917 election facing Liberal Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, who had been prime minister since 1896, against Conservative Member of Parliament Robert Borden.
Another player in the election was Member of Parliament Henri Bourassa of Quebec who was opposed to the Liberals and rallied against them. He also was against imperialism and believed in Canada’s right to determine its own destiny.
The Main Issue
The election was contested over reciprocity, free trade with the United States. Canada had been trying to establish a reciprocity agreement for years, but it had been voted down in the U.S. This time, it was the American government that was eager to establish free trade, while Canada had the stronger position.
The reciprocity bill proposed before the House of Commons applied mainly to natural products. Opponents said the bill harmed industry and would eventually lead to annexation to the U.S.
Laurier was accused of being either too imperialist or not imperialist enough, depending on who was attacking him.
A minor issue during the election was the 1910 Naval Service Act which would have built a Canadian navy that would be at Great Britain’s disposal in the event of war. The act was intended to be a compromise between imperialists and nationalists.
The election was held Sept. 21, 1911. The Conservatives won easily, gaining 131 seats to the Liberals’ 85.
The Liberals may have been damaged by a speech given by U.S. Speaker of the House, Champ Clark, who declared the American flag would soon be flying throughout all of Canada.
Laurier was replaced by Borden as prime minister. When the war began, it was Borden who led the nation into the fray.
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Updated: 21 October 2020
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