High Commissioner For Canada

During a visit to Great Britain in 1879 of the then Canadian Premier, Sir John A. Macdonald, with Sir Leonard Tilley and Sir Charles Tupper, a memorandum was presented by them urging the necessity of providing further means for constant and confidential communication between Her Majesty’s Government and the Dominion of Canada, and recommending that a representative of the Dominion should be appointed to reside permanently in London, and that he should be granted a quasi-diplomatic position. It was pointed out that the policy of the Empire having placed upon Canada, the administration of the whole of British North America with the attendant duties and responsibilities appertaining thereto, that daily experience was showing the absolute necessity of providing means of constant and confidential communication between Her Majesty’s Government and her local advisers in Canada. It was remarked that the Dominion had ceased to occupy the position of an ordinary possession of the Crown, existing, as she did, in the form of a powerful central Government having, at that time, no less than seven subordinate local executive and legislative systems ; and that her central Government was becoming even more responsible than the Imperial Government for the maintenance of international relations with the United States, a subject requiring great prudence and care, as the populations of the two countries extended along and mingled across the vast frontier line. It was urged that it was impossible that the questions constantly arising could be satisfactorily submitted for the consideration of Her Majesty’s Government in any other mode than that of personal communication, and that such subjects at the time under consideration necessitated the presence in London of no less than three Canadian Ministers, which entailed serious inconvenience. It was further urged that the rapidly increasing commerce of Canada, and her growing trade with foreign nations, was proving the absolute need of direct negotiation ; that in Treaties of cbmmerce entered into by England reference had only been made to their effect on the United King-dom ; and that the necessity had arisen for providing separate and distinct trade conventions with all foreign powers with whom Canada had distinct trade was a necessity ; especially in view of the fact that the Parliament of Canada held different views on tariff matters to those which were held by Her Majesty’s Government. They, therefore, submitted that when such negotiations were undertaken, Her Majesty’s Government should advise the Monarch specially to accredit the representative of Canada to the foreign court, by association, for the special object, with the resident Minister or other Imperial negotiator. With a view to giving effect to the foregoing policy, it was suggested that Her Majesty’s Government should consent to receive an official representative from Canada for the purpose of securing the most early and confidential communication of their views, and that, when so requested, the proposed Minister should be accredited to foreign courts in the manner above mentioned ; also that such representative should be accorded a quasi-diplomatic position at the Court of St. James, with the social advantages appertaining thereto.

The Canadian Government, it was stated, desired to surround the proposed appointment with all the impor-tance which should attach to an official charged with such high duties. He should, therefore, it was held, be selected from the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, and specially entrusted with the general supervision of all the political, material and financial interests of Canada in England, subject to instructions from his Government. It was suggested that the dignity of the office, and the advantage of its proper recognition, appeared to require a more expressive title than that of Agent-General ; it was therefore suggested that the designation should be Resident Minister, or such other name of equal import as Her Majesty’s Government might suggest.

The Colonial Secretary, in transmitting a copy of the memorandum to the Governor-General at Ottawa, stated that Her Majesty’s Government were very sensible of the advantage which might result from the appointment of a gentleman who, residing in England, would be fully empowered to explain their views on important questions concerning Canada. He added that, looking to the position of Canada as an integral portion of the Empire, the relations of such a representative with Her Majesty’s Government would not be correctly defined as of a diplomatic character ; and that, while Her Majesty’s Government would readily assign to him a status in every way worthy of his important functions, his position would necessarily be more analagous to that of an officer in the Home Service, than to that of a Minister of a foreign court. He would, therefore, primarily communicate with the Colonial Office on the various subjects which might be entrusted to him, and the Colonial Secretary stated that while Her Majesty’s Government would readily avail itself of any information he might afford, and give the fullest consideration to any representations ,made by him, it would rest with the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to determine in what capacity his services might best be rendered with a foreign court in the interests of the Dominion.

The High Commissioner for Canada was appointed by Statute in 1880, which recited that he should :—Act as representative and resident Agent of Canada in the United Kingdom, and in that capacity execute the powers and perform such duties as were, from time to time, conferred upon him by the Governor in Council. It was also provided that he should take the charge, super-vision and control of the immigration offices and agencies in the United Kingdom, and generally, carry out such instructions as he might receive from the Governor in Council respecting the commercial, financial and general interests of Canada in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

When it was first established the High Commissioner’s Office was not well known, and received but little attention from the powers that were. It has, however, as the years rolled on, steadily grown in importance, and, it can safely be said that, largely through its efforts, Canada has become, in Great Britain, the best known portion of the Empire. Canada has, as promised, given of her best to conduct the affairs of the Dominion in this country, and the three High Commissioners who have already served her here—Sir Alexander Galt, Sir Charles Tupper, and Lord Strathcona—are all names to conjure with.

The High Commissioner’s Office has performed most useful service, and has gained a widespread influence. It has not only brought the Dominion prominently to the front in the most important centre in the world, but at the same time it has helped to educate the public mind as to other parts of the Empire. The almost triumphal reception recently extended to the newly-appointed High Commissioner for Australia, at which Canadians rejoiced equally with their Australian cousins, was in vivid contrast to the indifference shown by the public, at least to the first High Commissioner for Canada ; and, at the same time, enables us to gauge the great change in national feeling towards the great British communities overseas.