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96   DAYS OF PREPARATION

under the title, "The Military Service Act, 1917." Seldom, if ever before, were the utterances of a Canadian leader awaited with greater interest, and always with the question added, "What will Laurier do?" Addressing a crowded House, with still more crowded galleries listening intently to every sentence, Sir Robert explained that there was no principle of compulsion in the Bill except the principle that had stood on the statute book for forty-nine years. He denied that the course had been taken at the request or dictation of the British authorities. The principle of compulsory service was, he explained, first enacted in 1868, a year after Confederation. The Militia Act was amended in 1904, and provided that for the defence of the country, whether within or without Canada, men from eighteen to sixty should be subject to compulsory service. The old act provided for selection by ballot, but under present conditions this would be manifestly unfair, so the Government proposed that "the selection should be based upon an intelligent consideration of the country's needs and conditions."

A week later, when moving the second reading of the Military Service Bill, Sir Robert explained that there were in Canada 760,453 unmarried men between the ages of twenty and forty-five, and 823,096 married men. Between the ages of twenty and thirty-four, comprising the first classes there were 636,646 unmarried men and 429,944 married. Consequently, he argued there should be little difficulty in securing the 100,000 men stipulated for in the Bill without dislocating the industries or life of the country.

It was not until the second reading, on June 18th, that the attitude of Sir Wilfrid Laurier was disclosed. Few people knew beforehand what course he intended to pursue. "Let the people speak," he said, "and I have no objection and no complaint to make. Let the people speak and express their will. With that I shall be satisfied; I ask no more. . . . What I propose is that we should have a referendum and a consultation of the


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