Sir Charles Tupper (1821-1915), sixth prime minister of Canada, (1896), became prime minister through the efforts of the cabinet ministers who resigned from the cabinet of Sir Mackenzie Bowell in 1896. No more successful than Bowell had been, Tupper was defeated by the Liberals under Wilfrid Laurier after only ten weeks in office. Despite the shortness of his tenure as prime minister, Tupper is considered one of the great Canadian statesmen. It was through his efforts that Nova Scotia became part of the Dominion of Canada and that the dominion became a strong union.
Tupper was born in 1821, in Amherst, Nova Scotia, son of the Reverend Charles Tupper, a Baptist minister, and Miriam Lowe Lockhart Tupper. He attended Horton Academy (now Acadia University) in Wolfville, and while there he studied medicine. He completed his medical education at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, graduating in 1843. After successfully practicing medicine in Amherst for several years, he entered politics at the age of 34.
In his first try for election to the Nova Scotia legislature in 1855, he ran from Cumberland County as a Conservative and defeated the Liberal leader, Joseph Howe. It was an astonishing victory, for Howe was one of the most powerful men in Nova Scotia. However, when Tupper took his place in the Conservative opposition, he found his own party sadly behind the times. He himself favored most of the Liberal Party's positions, including democratic government and a railway to connect the British colonies in North America. Tupper worked hard to make his party adopt a more constructive policy and to broaden its appeal. The Conservatives made a profitable alliance with the Roman Catholic clergy, and in 1856, Tupper became provincial secretary in the new Conservative government. Defeated in the election of 1860, the Conservatives returned to power in 1864, and Tupper became premier.
|III||PREMIER OF NOVA SCOTIA|
The next three years were the most important in Tupper's life. In 1864, he arranged a conference at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, to discuss a federation of the three Maritime colonies, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. There was no great enthusiasm for union among the Maritimers, but the conference became important through the intervention of delegates from Canada East (now Québec) and Canada West (now Ontario). The Canadians asked permission to address the conference and did so at length. They persuaded he Maritimers to consider a larger union of all the British North American colonies. Tupper gave this idea of federation his full support.
If Tupper favored union, Howe opposed it. He detested the upstart doctor who had defeated him years before and refused to be subordinate to him. He could not prevent Tupper from attending a second conference in Québec where the details of federation were worked out. However, through his Anti-Confederation League, Howe raised popular opinion against the Québec resolutions.
Opposition to union was widespread in all the Maritime colonies. When Samuel Tilley, premier of New Brunswick, called a new election over the federation issue, he was thrown out of office. Tupper was too shrewd to repeat his ally's mistake. He remained in power by refusing to call an election. He even managed to pass a free school act in 1865, which called for a provincial tax to pay for public schools. He was successful in this despite the opposition of Roman Catholics, who had had separate Church schools since the 1850s, and didn't want to give them up, and of illiterate farmers, who saw no advantage in paying a school tax. In 1866, Tupper attended the London conference on confederation. There he settled the terms under which Nova Scotia would join the dominion.
The British North America Act of 1867 made federation a reality, and Sir John Alexander Macdonald became Canada's first prime minister. However, he had great difficulty in forming his first cabinet because there were not enough posts to permit representation for each province and each faction in Canada. Tupper was the obvious representative for Nova Scotia, and Thomas D'Arcy McGee of Québec for the Irish Catholics. Both generously stood aside in favor of a Nova Scotian Catholic, Edward Kenny. In spite of not being in the cabinet, Tupper was considered one of the fathers of confederation and was made a Commander of the Bath. However, his troubles in Nova Scotia were not over. In the first federal election he alone, out of 19 members of Parliament elected from Nova Scotia, supported federation. In the elections for the provincial legislature, the opponents of federation won all but two seats. The fight had exhausted Tupper's finances, and his career seemed at an end. Nevertheless, he took his seat in Parliament.
Joseph Howe went to London in 1868 to take Nova Scotia out of the dominion. Tupper followed as Macdonald's agent and, with the added support of the British government, succeeded in defeating Howe's mission. When Howe returned, Macdonald offered him a post in the cabinet and a larger subsidy for Nova Scotia. Howe accepted the post and, with it, federation. Eventually the province itself agreed, although secession remained an issue for years.
Tupper himself finally entered the federal cabinet in June 1870, as president of the council. He had already proved his loyalty to Macdonald and his devotion to principle. He now showed himself an able politician. In 1872 he was made minister of inland revenue, and he was minister of customs when Macdonald resigned in 1873. In the election of 1874, Tupper was one of the few Conservatives to survive.
Tupper was Macdonald's assistant and the Conservatives' financial spokesman in the new Liberal Parliament. The new prime minister, Alexander Mackenzie, believed in free trade. It was up to Tupper to make the case for a protective tariff, a tax on imports that would protect the products of Canadian farmers and manufacturers from competition from imported products. The country was then in the middle of an economic depression, and Tupper's ideas won votes. In 1878 the Conservatives returned to power.
Tupper joined Prime Minister Macdonald's new cabinet as minister of public works. This was an important post, for it made him responsible for railways, and Macdonald was determined to build a railway to the Pacific. The responsibilities of the office were so great that in 1879 its duties were divided between two posts, with Tupper becoming the minister of railways and canals. He improved the International Railway between the Maritime Provinces and Québec. In 1881 he introduced legislation creating the Canadian Pacific Railway. When the railway nearly went bankrupt in 1884, Tupper pushed through Parliament an authorization for a loan.
In 1884 Tupper withdrew from party politics and became the Canadian high commissioner in London, succeeding Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt. Galt, ignored by the British, had returned to Canada in a rage. Tupper proved more successful in advancing Canada's interests. When he returned to Canada in 1887 to help the Conservatives campaign, Macdonald asked him to become minister of finance. He was then sent to Washington, D.C., as leader of the Canadian delegation to settle a fisheries dispute with the United States. A treaty was worked out and signed, but the U.S. Senate refused to ratify it. Tupper had already become a Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George in 1879, and he received the Knight Grand Cross of St. Michael and St. George in 1886. For his services in Washington he was given the hereditary title of baronet in 1888. In 1888 Tupper resigned his ministry and returned to London as high commissioner.
Tupper again campaigned in the election of 1891. When Macdonald died soon after the Conservative victory, Tupper was a likely successor. At the age of 70, however, he was unwilling to give up the pleasures of London for leadership of a dwindling party. John Abbott became the next prime minister, and Tupper remained high commissioner.
When Sir John Thompson, Abbott's successor, died, the governor-general offered the post to Mackenzie Bowell. Bowell accepted it. When Bowell could not decide the Manitoba schools question, seven of his cabinet ministers resigned in January 1896 and called for Tupper's help. Although Bowell refused to resign at once, he agreed that Tupper could lead the party in the elections in the summer. Tupper returned, took the post of secretary of state in Bowell's cabinet, and tried to end the Manitoba crisis.
The Manitoba provincial government under Thomas Greenway had passed an act in 1890 that abolished funding for separate schools for the Roman Catholic minority in the province. The Roman Catholics had protested the act, and two Conservative federal governments had stood aside while the act's constitutionality was decided by the courts. Finally, it was decided in 1895 that, while Manitoba's act was legal, the federal government had the power to reverse it. Tupper took the line that the decision forced him to order the provincial government to set up separate schools. In March 1896 a bill to restore the schools was introduced. However, the Liberals blocked it, and the bill was not passed before Parliament dissolved.
On April 27, Bowell formally resigned. Tupper became prime minister on May 1 and called the election for June 23, an election that was fought mainly on the Manitoba issue. During the campaign the Roman Catholic clergy allied themselves with the Conservatives and waged a bitter fight against the Liberals, who were led by a French Catholic from Québec, Wilfrid Laurier. Laurier took a moderate position, arguing that the Catholics could get better terms by federal negotiation with Manitoba than by coercion. Tupper counted on the Catholics obeying their clergy and on the British Canadians refusing to vote for a French Canadian. He was proved wrong. The Liberals won 49 out of 65 seats in Québec. In the rest of Canada they did about as well as the Conservatives, even in Nova Scotia.
|VIII||OPPOSITION ONCE MORE|
Tupper, always an optimist, had been so sure of victory that he had not filled several important patronage posts. These posts were dispensed to loyal party members or others with political ties, usually to ensure a party's presence on a cabinet even if they were not the majority party. He tried to fill these posts before he resigned, but the British governor-general refused to ratify his appointments. Although the governor-general's action was probably unconstitutional, most Canadians thought he was right to refuse. Tupper resigned as prime minister on July 8, but he remained the Conservative leader.
The main issue during the next four years was the question of Canadian participation in the Boer War (1899-1902), the fight in South Africa between the British and South Africans of Dutch heritage. Laurier decided to equip volunteer regiments. British Canadians thought he should do far more, but in Québec he was losing votes to nationalists who thought Canada should not be involved at all. In the election of 1900, Tupper tried to win support from both sides. He even went so far as to say in Québec that Laurier was too British to suit him and in Toronto that he was not British enough. These tactics were too weak for a period of prosperity and economic boom. The Liberals lost only a few seats, whereas Tupper lost his own.
Tupper retired from leadership of the party shortly after the election. His last years were spent in England, where even at the age of 90 he was consulted by Canadians. He published his memoirs, Recollections of Sixty Years in Canada, in 1914 and died in 1915.