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88   DAYS OF PREPARATION

system. Then in 1915 came the illuminating debates on conscription in the old land, punctuated now and then by that insistent call for men and more men. Canadians began to realize that conscription was not the prerogative of the autocrats or the military caste; but that it was a really democratic thing, economically just in that it put each and every man in a position best to serve his country, and equalized to some extent the sacrifice.

Almost coincident with the calling to the colours of the first draft in Britain came Premier Borden's New Year's message for 1916, stating that Canada would be called upon to contribute 500,000 men to the allied cause. Though the message was not so worded, the utterance came to be taken as a pledge. Recruiting started again with renewed vigour; the country seemed fairly combed for recruits; but, though all kinds of spectacular methods were used, when the totals were made up from time to time it was seen that the "pledge" was far from being redeemed. Then it was that conscription talk began to assume serious proportions. The leaders of the Dominion Trades and Labour Congress, with their fingers on the public pulse, and perhaps alarmed at the headway the agitation for conscription was making, asked Premier Borden about the Government's intentions. The Premier's reply is worth more than passing notice since it was his first official mention of the subject. He said: "You have asked me for an assurance that under no circumstances will conscription be undertaken or carried out. As I stated to you at our interview, I must decline to give any such assurance. I hope that conscription may not be necessary, but if it should prove the only effective method to preserve the existence of the State and of the institutions and liberties which we enjoy, I should not hesitate to act accordingly."

The enlistment figures up to early in 1917, as revealed later in the same year, showed how far short Canada had come of the half million men promised under the voluntary system. Until then Canada had sent 326,000


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