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Railway building had almost ceased after the completion of the Canadian Pacific system. Now it revived on a greater scale than ever before. In the twenty years after 1896 the miles in operation grew from 16,000 to nearly 40,000. Two new transcontinentals were added, and the older roads took on a new lease of life. At the end of this period of expansion, only the United States, Germany, and Russia had railroad mileage exceeding that of Canada. Much of the building was premature or duplicated other roads. The scramble for state aid, federal and provincial, had demoralized Canadian politics. A large part of the notes the country rashly backed, by the policy of guaranteeing bond issues, were in time presented for payment. Yet the railway policies of the period were broadly justified. New country was opened to settlers; outlets to the sea were provided; capital was obtained in the years when it was still abundant and cheap; the whole industry of the country was stimulated; East was bound closer to West and depth was added to length.*
* During the Great War it became necessary for the Federal Government to take over both the National Transcontinental, running from Moncton in New Brunswick to Winnipeg, and the Canadian Northern, running from ocean to ocean, and to incorporate both, along with the Intercolonial, in the Canadian National Railways, a system fourteen thousand miles in length.
The opening of the West brought new prosperity to every corner of the East. Factories found growing markets; banks multiplied branches and business; exports mounted fast and imports faster; closer relations were formed with London and New York financial interests; mushroom millionaires, country clubs, city slums, suburban subdivisions, land booms, grafting aldermen, and all the apparatus of an advanced civilization grew apace. A new self-confidence became the dominant note alike of private business and of public policy.
With industrial prosperity, political unity became assured. Canada became more and more a name of which all her sons were proud. Expansion brought men of the different provinces together. The Maritime Provinces first felt fully at one with the rest of Canada when Vancouver and Winnipeg rather than Boston and New York called their sons. Even Ontario and Quebec made some advance toward mutual understanding, though clerical leaders who sought safety for their Church in the isolation of its people, imperialists who drove a wedge between Canadians by emphasizing Anglo-Saxon racial ties, and politicians of the baser sort exploiting race prejudice for their own gain, opened rifts in a society already seamed by differences of language and creed. In the West unity was still harder to secure, for men of all countries and of none poured into a land still in the shaping. The divergent interests of the farming, free trade West and of the manufacturing, protectionist East made for friction. Fortunately strong ties held East and West together. Eastern Canadians or their sons filled most of the strategic posts in Government and business, in school and church and press in the West. Transcontinental railways, chartered banks with branches and interests in every province, political parties organizing their forces from coast to coast, played their part. Much had been accomplished; but much remained to be done. With this background of rapid industrial development and growing national unity, Canada's relations with the Empire, with her sister democracy across the border, and with foreign states, took on new importance and divided interest with the changes in her internal affairs.
From being a state wherein the mother country exercised control and the colonies yielded obedience the Empire was rapidly being transformed into a free and equal partnership of independent commonwealths under one king. Out of the clash of rival theories and conflicting interests a new ideal and a new reality had developed. The policy of imperial cooperation--the policy whereby each great colony became independent of outside control but voluntarily acted in concert with the mother country and the sister states on matters of common concern--sought to reconcile liberty and unity, nationhood and empire, to unite what was most practicable in the aims of the advocates of independence and the advocates of imperial federation. The movement developed unevenly. At the outbreak of the Great War, it was still incomplete. The ideal was not always clearly or consciously held in the Empire itself and was wholly ignored or misunderstood in Europe and even in the United States. Yet in twenty years' space it had become dominant in practice and theory and had built up a new type of political organization, a virtual league of nations, fruitful for the future ordering of the world.
The three fields in which this new policy was worked out were trade, defense, and political organization. Canada had asserted her right to control her tariff and commercial treaty relations as she pleased. Now she used this freedom to offer, without asking any return in kind, tariff privileges to the mother country. In the first budget brought down by the Minister of Finance in the Laurier Cabinet, William S. Fielding, a reduction, by instalments, of twenty-five per cent in tariff duties was offered to all countries with rates as low as Canada's--that is, to the United Kingdom and possibly to the Netherlands and New South Wales. The reduction was meant both as a fulfilment of the Liberal party's free trade pledges and as a token of filial good will to Britain. It was soon found that Belgium and Germany, by virtue of their special treaty rights, would claim the same privileges as Britain, and that all other countries with most favored nation clauses could then demand the same rates. This might serve the free trade aims of the Fielding tariff but would block its imperial purpose. If this purpose was to be achieved, these treaties must be denounced. To effect this was one of the tasks Laurier undertook in his first visit to England in 1897.
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The Canadian Dominion -by- Oscar D. SkeltonBottom Content goes here. Wikipedia content requires these links..... Wikipedia content is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.