The Issues Crystallize

The Naval Bill

Towards A Canadian Navy

The fall of 1908 and the following winter, when Australia was establishing its own naval militia, saw discussion about equipping Canada with such a force, though the plan was not debated in the 1908 federal election that returned Laurier's Liberals to office. In the 1909 parliamentary session the Conservatives put forth a motion that Canada assume responsibility for some of the burden of its naval defence. Over the two months while the Conservative Party's Francophones tried to prevent this motion from being sent to committee, Kingsmill completed his plan for a naval militia, which, while not being overly ambitious, suggested the establishment of a school at Halifax to prepare crews for service on board the military vessels Canada would be acquiring over the years.

None of this had yet been made public when Britain erupted in what became known as the Dreadnought Crisis. Though dominating all other navies, Britain had just realized that it could no longer call on as many naval units as the total that could be arrayed by any two European continental powers. Germany was making swift progress. A debate on the matter that began in London on 16 March 1909 preceded by 13 days the debate on Conservative George Foster's motion already scheduled for the Commons in Ottawa. The Canadian parliamentary debate thus began in the glare of what Britain was to have handled as an internal matter.

In Canada, discussion reflected two complementary concerns: the need to help the mother country (imperialism) and the desirability of a Canadian navy for this purpose (national feeling). On Brodeur's orders, Kingsmill put the finishing touches on the naval militia plan that Borden took to London in July 1909. The British authorities improvised a special imperial conference on "military" and naval defence. Two suggestions were made regarding navies. Colonial participation could take the form of financial contributions or focus on creating local naval forces that could be added to the imperial naval strength in wartime. Australia, which had offered to defray the cost of a Dreadnought, was told by the Admiralty that creating an Australian navy would be more acceptable to Britain. This option was perfectly suitable to Canada, where, since it had become a matter of destroyers and battleships, discussion revolved around not a naval militia but a genuine navy, and produced the Naval Bill of spring 1910.