A Semi-Autonomous Defence (1871-1898)

The Value of the Militia

Conscription Proposals and Recruiting Problems

Census of Men of Eligible Age for Service

Caption: Census of Men of Eligible Age for Service

The Act of 1868 contained provisions for implementing conscription; in actual fact, this was changed to an inventory taken in 1869, 1871 and 1873 prior to its being abandoned.

Each census cost $50,000, and following the budget cuts of 1875 the decision was made to conduct them only once every five years, with the next scheduled for 1880. In actual fact, the final census was held in 1873, except in New Brunswick where the exercise would be repeated until 1879.

The fact that conscription was never introduced did not stop a number of people from pressing for it. These included three lieutenant-colonels - Irumberry de Salaberry, A.C. Lotbinière-Harwood and L.G. D'Odet d'Orsonnens 10 - all of whom could be considered Francophone. But this traditional levy under French rule ran counter to British tradition. For their part, the General Officers Commanding pressed for a regular force larger than the Non-Permanent Militia. Their vision, which met with only limited success, reflected the British tradition, which emphasized the development of a professional army, rather than common practice on the European continent at that time, which involved the conscription of young men for long periods.

The supporters of conscription had a number of arguments in their favour. The first of these, which surfaced during the years when the United States still posed a threat, concerned the inadequate numbers of volunteers. In 1868-69 the Eastern Quebec Military District had a quota of 5,035 volunteers but managed to raise only 59 percent of this number. In 1871 the 6th Military District (Montreal and Western Quebec) had an authorized strength of 3,228, but less than 50 percent of that number (1,512) participated in exercises; the 4th Battalion had four officers and 46 men, below the eligible number for a company, and the 65th of Montreal mustered only 17 officers and 158 men. When the 65th Battalion was inspected in December 1873, one company, that of Member of Parliament A. Ouimet, was absent - an example, to the 18 other officers and 194 NCOs and men in attendance, from someone in a senior position. Furthermore, 66 percent of Francophones did not serve past their first year despite their three-year contracts. Among Quebec's Anglophones, the rate of non-renewal was 33 percent, while in Ontario it was 25 percent. For Canada as a whole in 1870, 88 percent of militia positions were filled; by 1873 this figure would fall to 73 percent. One of the problems here was the full mobility of the eligible population, mainly young, unattached day labourers. Nonetheless, the conscription of the number of militiamen permitted under the Act through the drawing of lots would never take place. It is hard to see how, in the virtual absence of any threat to Canada, it could have been justified or, more importantly, accepted by the people.