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57 Glasgow to Evatt Dispatch M3/44 (extracts)

OTTAWA, 26 February 1944

I have the honour to report that the question of Imperial
Relations, always a tender spot in Canadian political life, has
been front page news almost continually for the last six months.

The discussion, which was first provoked by Mr. Curtin's proposals
for an Empire Council [1], was further stimulated by his address
to the Triennial Federal Conference of the Australian Labor Party
on December 14th [2], the statement by Field Marshal Smuts, and
the recent speech of Lord Halifax in Toronto. On 31st January, the
attitude of the Canadian Government was redefined in the, House of
Commons by Mr. Mackenzie King.

[matter omitted]

3. There still seems to have been considerable confusion, both as
to the reason for and the purpose of Mr. Curtin's proposals. Some
observers did not hesitate to regard them as inspired by the
British Government. Le Droit' in Ottawa on November 4th for
example said 'The present war has made the people of Great Britain
think seriously. The British Isles nearly collapsed under the
attack of the Axis powers . . . The English have learned their
lesson well. They will take all possible precautions to prevent
the recurrence of this danger. That is why it may be expected that
they will attempt to strengthen as much as possible the military,
economic and political ties between Great Britain and the
Dominions, so as to be in a better position in future to encounter
such a situation.' 'La Patrie' on the other hand interpreted Mr.

Curtin's scheme as simply an attempt by Australia to obtain a
voice in the determination of imperial policy.

4. Canadian political leaders remained non-committal. Mr. M. J.

Coldwell, the Dominion leader of the C.C.F. [3], went furthest
when he said 'anything that can be done to bring about co-
operation is desirable', but that 'it would not be a good thing to
set up any body which would tend to build a wall around the
Empire'. Mr. Blackmore, the New Democracy (Social Credit) leader,
commented 'We need to know what this Council would imply before
making any pronouncement whatever'.

5. The Prime Minister held his hand, but no one had much doubt as
to what his attitude would be. An interesting forecast was made by
Bruce Hutchison, feature writer in the Winnipeg 'Free Press', on
23rd November in an article entitled 'Remarkable Conversion of Mr.

Curtin'. (Annex 1.) [4] Mr. Curtin he said 'seems to be leading a
movement to solidify the Commonwealth for the difficult post-war
era . . . his plan is a new and powerful British Empire Council
which, with a permanent secretariat, would keep all the British
nations in constant touch with one another and would tend, though
it would not compel, them to act together in foreign affairs . . .

This tough labour leader was associated in Australia most of his
life with the forces which were sceptical of the British
Commonwealth, suspicious of Britain, isolationist, pacifist and
socialist . . . Mr. Curtin suddenly discovered that Australia
could have no security except as a member of a world-wide league
of British nations'. He went on to examine Canada's position and
continued: 'If it (the Curtin plan) should involve anything like a
British Commonwealth Cabinet to direct Commonwealth foreign policy
it would not be accepted by Canada, which regards such a plan as
unworkable, the interests of the British nations being so diverse.

Mr. Curtin . . . may rather have in mind a consultative body only,
each of the British nations being free to follow its advice or
not, in times of crisis. Such a plan . . . might appeal to Canada
. . . Mr. Hull . . . has denounced the whole theory of alliances
and international blocs and in favour of a league including all
peace-loving nations, each with its sovereignty unimpaired,
regardless of its size. This is precisely the hope of Canada,
which desires a world system of collective security larger than
the Commonwealth'. The 'Free Press' drove the same arguments home
in an editorial the following day which concluded: 'If it involves
in the slightest degree provisions by which common action in
international matters-whether of finance, trade, world government,
or war-can be compelled by machinery designed for the purpose of
overcoming minority views, they seek to destroy the Commonwealth
as it has been developed over forty years by the statesmanship of
Laurier [5], Borden [6] and King'. (Annex 2.)

[matter omitted]

9. Mr. Curtin's speech to the Federal Labor Conference in
December, which was fully reported, produced a further crop of
comment. The Toronto 'Globe and Mail', which had always been
sympathetic to his proposals, now made a definite pronouncement in
favour of them. 'The proposals of Mr. Curtin', it said on December
15th, 'suggest no impairment of the fundamental autonomy of the
Dominions, and therefore they seem to us to merit careful and
sympathetic examination by the Canadian people and their
Government. They appear to provide a method for the more effective
co-operation of the policies of the Commonwealth which we believe
to be highly desirable both in its own interest and that of the
whole world. Field Marshal Smuts feared an unequal partnership in
which the British Commonwealth would carry inferior weight in a
trinity of Powers, including the United States and Russia. The
great merit of Mr. Curtin's proposals is that they offer a plan
for that closer integration of the Commonwealth's policies which
can make it an equal partner with its two mighty allies'. (Annex
10. The Winnipeg 'Free Press' reproduced Mr. Curtin's speech
almost verbatim, noting in a rather puzzled manner that 'Mr.

Curtin was prepared to go very far toward the creating of a
centralized Empire with the acceptance by all parts of it of
permanent commitments to a common policy', while at the same time
'Mr. Curtin's final phrase contains a firm affirmation of the
absolute sovereignty of Australia in dealing with international

11. Mr. Curtin's speech happened to coincide with the announcement
by Mr. Mackenzie King that he was prepared to attend a Conference
in London as soon as other Dominion Prime Ministers were able to
be present. This led to a number of suggestions that the question
of Imperial Relations, which would obviously be discussed at a
Conference in London, should be thoroughly thrashed out in Canada
in advance, so that the Prime Minister would know the views of the
people. The Toronto 'Globe and Mail', for example, on December
18th said that 'The Canadian people do not want their accredited
spokesman to go to this Council table with his mind unformed about
certain vital issues, such as those raised by the Australian Prime
Minister, due to be faced, and with a disposition to reserve full
freedom about decisions and commitments until the time is ripe for
a general peace-making'. (Annex 5.)
12. The more the 'Globe' supported Mr. Curtin's proposals, the
more skeptical became the Winnipeg 'Free Press'. In a leading
article entitled 'Thrashing Old Straw' on December 20th,
commenting on Mr. Curtin's speech, the 'Free Press' drew attention
to 'the strong resurgence suggesting a common origin in a movement
to give the British Commonwealth-or the Empire to those who prefer
that title-a single voice in the determination of policies arising
out of the war, or out of the problems of the post-war world'. The
article repeated the view that Mr. Curtin was of two minds when he
made his speech. On the one hand he had stated that 'Consultations
must be consistent with the sovereign control of policy by each
Government', and on the other hand he had referred to 'a common
policy in matters that concern the Empire as a whole'. The 'Free
Press' doubted whether, in view of the reservations with which his
speech was 'plentifully besprinkled', Mr. Curtin really did belong
to the 'common policy' school. The article then proceeded to state
what is, I believe, one of the most important considerations
governing Canadian opinion. It quoted a Round Table report of the
Hot Springs Conference which said that 'Foreign nations are
inclined to regard with jealousy the claim of the Dominions to
send separate delegations and to exercise separate votes at an
international conference. They feel that the arrangement is unfair
as giving a plural vote to what they think is fundamentally a
single interest'. 'As a consequence of this ill-considered
movement', the 'Free Press' continued 'Canada may in future
international conferences dealing with post-war matters, face a
revival of the opposition to Canadian representation which
appeared in Paris in 1919; and . . . it may be a weapon into the
hands of the United States isolationists with which they can
repeat the sabotage of 1919. Canada has been quietly taking steps-
e.g., the elevation of her Canadian Legations to the status of
Embassies-to give public notice to the world of Canada's full
sovereignty, and when the question of closer Empire organization
arises it is always examined from this point of view'. (Annex 6.)
13. The 'Globe and Mail' scouted the suggestion that there was any
sinister conspiracy to create a centralized imperialist structure
and said that 'the core of the problem was that Britain, acting by
herself, could not, in a partnership with Russia and the United
States, hope to exercise the same power and influence as these
countries . . . We want', it continued, 'a common international
policy for the Commonwealth, but a termination of Britain's
monopolistic control of it'. (Annex 7.)
14. The Toronto 'Saturday Night' under the heading of 'The Common
Voice Fantasy' attacked those urging that the Commonwealth should
speak with a single voice. It argued that there were two
objections, one the effect on the nations of the Commonwealth
themselves if an attempt were made to adopt common policies upon
questions where the interests of the Dominions were widely
different, which might involve repudiation by the public, and two,
the effect upon other nations who would be unlikely to accept the
Dominions as separate sovereignties if they acted on common
policies. (Annex 8.)
15. The apparently divergent views of the supporters and opponents
had thus narrowed down to an interpretation of Mr. Curtin's plans.

Those who understood him to intend that the Dominions and the
United Kingdom should be automatically committed to policies by
the decisions of a central council were almost unanimously in
opposition. Those who regarded his plan as a means for closer
consultation were equally strongly in favour. The Canadian press
delegates after their return to this country were called upon to
expound Australian policy, and there is some evidence that
Richardson [7] of the 'Free Press' has been able to explain Mr.

Curtin's attitude to his paper in a rather different light. Before
the effect of this influence could be fully assessed, however,
events were given a new turn by the address of Lord Halifax in

[matter omitted] [8]


1 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. VI,
Document 272, note 1.

2 In his conference address Curtin advocated a secretariat and
standing committee which, between imperial conferences, would
allow 'full and continuous consultation' consistent with the
sovereignty of each government (Sydney Morning Herald, 15 December

3 Co-operative Commonwealth Federation.

4 The annexes to this dispatch are not published.

5 Canadian Prime Minister 1896-1911.

6 Canadian Prime Minister 1911-20.

7 B. T. Richardson.

8 Matter omitted refers to the critical response in Canada to
Halifax's address at the Centennial Dinner of the Toronto Board of
Trade on 24 January.

[AA:A4231, OTTAWA,1944]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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