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FROM SPEECH ON CANADIAN FISHERIES
DELIVERED MAY 5, 1872
O come to the various subjects which interest Canada
more particularly. I will address myself to them in
detail, and first I will consider the question of most importance to us, the one on which we are now specially asked to legislate, that which interests Canada as a whole most particularly, and which interests the Maritime Provinces especially,— I mean the articles of the treaty with respect to our fishery rights.
I would in the first place say that the protocols which accompany the treaty, and which are in the hands of every member, do not give chronologically an every-day account of the transactions of the conference, although as a general rule I believe, the protocols of such conferences are kept from day to day; but it was thought better to depart from the rule on this occasion, and only to record the conclusions arrived at. Therefore, while the protocols substantially contain the result of the negotiations ended in the treaty, they must not be looked upon as chronological details of facts and incidents as they occurred.
I say so because the protocol which relates more especially to the fisheries would lead one to suppose that at the first meeting and without previous discussion the British commissioners stated “ that they were prepared to discuss the question of the fisheries, either in detail or generally, so as either to enter into an examination of the respective rights of the two countries under the treaty of 1818 and the general law of
nations, or to approach at once the settlement of the question on a comprehensive basis.”
Now the fact is that it was found by the British commis sioners, when they arrived at Washington and had an opportunity of ascertaining the feeling that prevailed at that time, not only among the United States commissioners, but among the public men of the United States whom they met there, and from their communications with other sources of information, that the feeling was universal that all questions should be settled beyond the possibility of dispute in the future, and more especially that if, by any possibility, a solution of the difficulty respecting the fisheries could be arrived at, or a satisfactory arrangement made by which the fishery question could be placed in abeyance as in 1854, it would be to the advantage of both nations.
It must be remembered that the commission sat in 1871; that the exclusion of American fishermen from our waters was enforced and kept up during the whole of 1870; and that great and loud, though I believe unfounded, complaints had been made that American fishing-vessels had been ille gally seized although they had not trespassed upon our waters. Persons interested had been using every effort to arouse and stimulate the minds of the people of the United States against Canada and the Canadian authorities, and it was felt and expressed that it would be a great bar to the chance of the treaty being accepted by the United States if one of the causes of irritation which had been occurring a few months before should be allowed to remain unsettled; collisions would occur between American fishermen claiming certain rights, and Canadians resisting those claims; that thereby unfriendly feelings would be aroused, and all the good which might be effected by the treaty would be
destroyed, by quarrels between man and man engaged on the fishing-grounds.
Under these circumstances, Mr. Speaker, I felt myself powerless; and when the American commissioners made their last offer, which is now in the treaty, offering reciprocity in fisheries: that Canadians should fish in American waters, and that Americans should fish in Canadian waters; that fish and fish oil should be reciprocally free; and that if, on arbitration, it were found that the bargain was an unjust one to Canada, and Canada did not receive sufficient compensation for her fisheries by that arrangement, it was remitted to her Majesty's government to say what should be done; and, as will be seen by the last sentence of the protocol:
“The subject was further discussed in the conferences of April 18 and 19, and, the British commissioners having referred the last proposal to the government, and received instructions to accept it, the treaty articles, 18 to 25, were agreed to at the conference of April 23."
Thus, then, it occurred that these articles from 18 to 25 are portions of the treaty. One of these articles reserves to Canada the right of adoption or rejection, and it is for this Parliament now to say whether, under all the circumstances, it should ratify or reject them.
The papers that have been laid before the House show what was the opinion of the Canadian government. Under the present circumstances of that question the Canadian government believe that it is for the interest of Canada to accept the treaty, to ratify it by legislation. They believe it is for the interest of Canada to accept it, and they are more inclined to believe it from the fact which I must say has surprised me, and surprised my colleagues, and has surprised the country, that the portion of the treaty which was supposed to be most
unpopular and most prejudicial to the interests of the Maritime Provinces, has proved to be the least unpopular.
Sir, I could not have anticipated that the American fishermen, who were offered the advantages of fishing in our waters, would be to a man opposed to the treaty as inflicting upon them a great injury. I could not have anticipated that the fishermen of the Maritime Provinces, who at first expressed hostility, would now, with a few exceptions, be anxious for its adoption.
In viewing these articles of the treaty I would call the consideration of the House to the fact that their scope and aim have been greatly misrepresented by that portion of the Canadian press which is opposed to the present government. It has been alleged to be an ignominious sale of the property of Canada, a bartering away of the territorial rights of this country for money. Sir, no allegation could be more utterly unfounded than this. It is no more a transfer and sale of the territorial rights of Canada than was the treaty of 1854. The very basis of this treaty is reciprocity.
To be sure, it does not go as far and embrace as many articles as the treaty of 1852. I am sorry for it. I fought hard that it should be so, but the terms of this treaty are terms of reciprocity, and the very first clause ought to be sufficient evidence upon that point, for it declares that Canadians shall have the same right to fish in American waters that Americans will have under the treaty to fish in Canadian waters.
True it may be said that our fisheries are more valuable. than theirs, but that does not affect the principle. The principle is this: that we were trying to make a reciprocity arrangement and going as far in the direction of reciprocity as possible. The principle is the same in each case, and as
regards the treaty that has been negotiated it is not confined to reciprocity in the use of the inshore fisheries of the two countries. It provides that the products of the fisheries of the two nations fish oil as well as fish - shall be interchanged free.
The only departure from the principle of reciprocity in the present treaty is the provision that if it shall be found that Canada had made a bad bargain and had not received a fair compensation for what she gave; if it shall be found that while there was reciprocity as to the enjoyment of rights and privileges there was not true reciprocity in value, then the difference in value should be ascertained and paid to this country. Now, if there is anything approaching to the dishonorable and the degrading in these proposals, I do not know the meaning of those terms. This provision may not be one that will meet the acceptance of the country, but I say that the manner in which it has been characterized is a wilful and deliberate use of language which the parties employing it did not believe at the time to be accurate, and to which they resorted for political reasons and in order to create misap prehensions in the country. Sir, there was no humiliation. Canada would not tolerate an act of humiliation on the part of its government. England would neither advise nor permit one of her faithful colonies to be degraded and cast down.
But it is said that the American fisheries are of no value to us. They are not as valuable as ours, it is true, but still they have a substantial value for us in this way,—that the exclusion of Canadian fishermen from the American coast fisheries would have been a loss to the fishing interests of the Maritime Provinces, and I will tell you why. It is quite true that the mackerel fishery, which is the most valuable fishery on these coasts, belongs chiefly to Canada, and that the