History of Saskatchewan and The Old North West
Chapter XXXVII - Forget's Administration: Political History, 1898-1905


Lieutenant-Governor Forget's Previous Career—First Session of Fourth Assembly, 1899—Scrip Commission—The "Strathcona Horse"—The Assembly of 1900—Apparent Discrepancies in Public Accounts—Ross Appointed Commissioner oi- the Yukon —Derates on Liquor Traffic—Negotiations for Provincial Status—Proposed Western Extension of Manitoba—Elections of 1902—Financial Disabilities of the Territories—Increased Representation in House of Commons—Dominion Elections of 1903—Autonomy 1'ill Introduced; Resignation of Clifford Sifton—Haultain Repudiates Proposed Constitution—Conflicting Opinion Regarding School Clauses—Creation ok Province of Saskatciiwan—First Provincial Elections.

The Honourable Amedee Emmanuel Forget was already a well known lawyer in Montreal when in 1876 he removed to the North West Territories as Clerk of the Council and Private Secretary to the Lieutenant-Governor. When the Council was transformed into an Assembly he became its clerk. In 1888 he was appointed Assistant Commissioner of Indian Affairs for Manitoba and the North West Territories, and from 1895 to 1898 he was Indian Commissioner. lie had also been prominently connected with educational matters, having been a member of the Council of Public Instruction in the Territories. When, therefore, Mr. Forget was chosen to succeed the late Air. Cameron as Lieutenant-Governor, in 1898, he undertook his duties with most exceptional qualifications. His regime was of unusual length. On April 2, 1904, his appointment to a second term was gazetted, and when in 1905 the Territories were divided into Provinces, he still remained in Regina in the capacity of Lieutenant-Governor until 1910. The last five years of this period, however, we will treat as a distinct administration.

A general election having recently occurred in the Territories, Air. Forget summoned the first session of the Fourth Legislative Assembly to meet on April 4, 1899.

Mr. William Eakin was elected Speaker. The personnel of the House had been considerably altered by recent events; Mr. Oliver was now a member of the Dominion Parliament, Mr. Turriff had in 1890 retired from active Territorial politics and in 1896 he became Dominion Land Commissioner. Of the outstanding figures of earlier days the most prominent remaining were Mr. Haultain, Mr. Ross and Dr. Brett.

The Speech from the Throne dealt in fitting terms with the lamented death of the late Lieutenant-Governor at London, Ontario, and with the departure of Lord Aberdeen owing to the completion of his term of office as Governor-General. The Honourable F. W. G. Haultain, Premier and Territorial Treasurer, reported to the House the details of a lengthy correspondence with the Dominion Government in which he had endeavored to obtain better financial terms and increased constitutional authority for the Legislature. This report sounded the keynote of the political history of the next six years. That the Assembly had as yet not very definitely made up its mind as to just how much power it should ask for was indicated by a resolution introduced by the Premier on April 24th.. This resolution claimed that the power to make ordinances in relation to the issue of land titles should be vested in the Assembly, and the House divided, fourteen to fourteen. so that Mr. Haultain's proposal was carried merely by the Speaker's vote. The most interesting and important debates of this session were probably those dealing with the necessity of opening up the Saskatchewan and Qu'Appelle valleys by railway lines, and of compelling the railways to give better facilities for the loading of grain. The House was prorogued on April 29th.

In the same year Colonel James Walker, a former distinguished member of the Mounted Police, was appointed Scrip Commissioner to deal with the Halfbreeds of Athabasca, and in 1900 lie held the same office in the provincial districts of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The Halfbreed title to western land was now at last finally extinguished by the issue of scrip in full settlement of all remaining claims.

On October 11, 1899, a state of war commenced between the British Government and the Boer Republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. Britishers will never forget with what disasters the early stages of the long struggle were marked. When the seriousness of the situation was realized, the various colonies, and prominent among them Canada, rose unanimously to defend the interests of the Empire. Even most of those citizens who disapproved of the ante-bellum policy of the Imperial Government felt that after Magersfontein the time had come for all Britishers to present a united front to the world. A Canadian regiment was promptly placed at the disposal of the British military authorities and proceeded to Africa.

In January, 1900, a second contingent was organized, almost wholly in the Territories, through the munificence of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal. This was the famous "Strathcona Horse," a unique cavalry regiment, six hundred strong. It was enlisted chiefly from among the western cowboys,—men inured to hardship, incomparable as riders, famous as marksmen, and characterized by dare-devil courage and with all other qualifications that especially adapted them for guerilla warfare. It was precisely the kind of force most needed in South Africa and performed services that won for it and the land it represented the profound gratitude of the Mother Country.

The second session of the Fourth Assembly dated from March 29 to May 4, 1900. A new member was Mr. A. L. Sifton, who was elected for Banff and who was subsequently to rise to such prominence in Alberta.

The most interesting political events of this session arose out of the publication in the Regina Standard of evidence which had been taken before a Select Committee appointed in 1899, to inquire into certain apparent discrepancies in the Public Accounts. The Standard's version reflected very seriously on the Government. Moreover, though no one seemed to know just how the newspaper came by its alleged information, a breach of confidence had apparently occurred somewhere. Mr. Haultain demanded that the charge and all the circumstances attending it should be investigated by the House and the matter was referred to a Select Committee consisting of Messrs. MacDonald, MacKav, Villeneuve, Lake, Cross, Sifton, Prince, Elliot and Patrick. Six days later, on April 25th, the Committee reported that Air. Richard Bedford Bennett, who was Air. Haultain's chief opponent, had refused to appear before it, and an order by the House was issued to compel his attendance. The scope of the Committee's inquiry was also extended.

On Alay 3rd, the Committee reported that the account in the Regina Standard was an incomplete report of the evidence, and had been supplied to the press by Air. R. B. Bennett. The whole misunderstanding arose out of the fact that, a couple of years earlier, Air. Haultain had obtained for the Territories a supplementary Federal grant of $20,000, which, though it had not yet become available for use by the end of the Territorial fiscal year, had been included in the year's receipts, by the North West Auditor. The Committee explained that by this error in bookkeeping, an item of $45,000, estimated receipts from the Dominion, had been inserted instead of one of $25,000, the sum actually received, and that all this had already been duly communicated to the Assembly. Accordingly, the Government was exonerated from any attempt to mislead the public. This report was confirmed by a vote of thirteen to three.

Early in 1901, Air. Ross was offered, and accepted, the Commissionership of the Yukon, and was accordingly lost to the Territorial Assembly in which, for the preceding seventeen years, he had been so conspicuous a champion of popular rights. As place, as member for Moose Jaw, in the third session of the Fourth Assembly (May 2 to June 12, 1901), was taken by Air. Arthur Hitchcock, but on a recount the seat was assigned to Air. George M. Amiable.

The death of Queen Victoria had occurred on January 22, 1902, and one of the duties of the Assembly in its third session was the presentation of a loyal address to King Edward VII.

Perhaps the most noteworthy debate of the session was that arising on the perennial liquor question. A resolution was ultimately passed that, in the opinion of the Assembly, the interests of temperance would be promoted by a system of state monopoly of the liquor traffic. Accordingly, this troublesome problem was, for the time being, safely shelved by a resolution calling upon the Government to inquire into this system in other countries where it had been adopted.

Meanwhile the most important topic of serious political debate and negotiation with the Federal authorities had to do with the establishment of full provincial status in the Territories, an end for which Air. Haultain had so long been agitating.

This, indeed, was the special object of consideration throughout the Fourth and last session, which was held from March 20 to April 19, 1902. As, however, a special chapter is to be devoted to the agitation for provincial autonomy, this important topic need here be mentioned only in passing. It may be remarked that the crux of the question was the dispute as to whether the Territories should be divided into two Provinces or remain intact as Air. Haultain advised.

During this period. Mr. Roblin, the Premier of Manitoba, was pressing for the annexation of a portion of the North West Territory to his Province. His propaganda was received with popular disfavor and aroused a resolution of protest in the Territorial Assembly.

The' Assembly was dissolved on April 25th, and the elections occurred on the 21 st of the following month. It is to be remembered that Dominion party lines were not as yet recognized in Territorial politics. The Premier was a Conservative, but his two lieutenants, Mr. Sifton and Mr. Bulyea, were Liberals, and Messrs. MacDonald and Bennett, the leaders of the opposition, were Conservatives. The result of the contest was the election of twenty-four supporters of the Haultain Government, five Independents and six members definitely opposed to the Government platform.

Shortly after the election, Air. Haultain left to attend the coronation of King Edward VII, and did not return until nearly the end of the year.'

The first session of the Fifth and last Legislative Assembly of the North West Territories met in April, 1903. As a result of the rapid increase in population and general industrial expansion throughout the West, the necessary expenses of the public service were growing at a rate which the citizens

of the older Provinces of the Dominion seemed entirely unable to understand. In consequence, Mr. Haultain had not been able to secure an adequate financial grant from the Dominion Government, and the administration of Territorial affairs was seriously hampered. Indeed, the Territorial Legislature seems to have grown weary of legislating under such a handicap and relatively little was accomplished in this session.

However, the West derived encouragement from the introduction at Ottawa of a Redistribution Bill, increasing the number of Territorial representatives at the House of Commons from six to ten. There was, moreover, much discussion on the Provincial autonomy in the Federal Parliament this year, but a dissolution was impending, and the political leaders were manifestly hesitant about boldly committing themselves at present on the vexed questions sure to be raised in the creation of new Provinces, of majority and minority rights on matters political, educational and religions.

In the Dominion election, in the Autumn, 1904, Sir Wilfred Laurier's Government was handsomely sustained. In what is now the Province of Alberta, Air. Frank Oliver and Dr. Mclntyre were the successful Liberal candidates, and with them were sent to Ottawa two Conservative members, Messrs. AI. S. McCarthy and J. Herron. In what is now Saskatchewan, the Liberals carried every constituency. The members elected were Messrs. Walter Seott, R. S. Lake, A. J. Adamson, J. H. Lamont and Dr. Cash.

When the Territorial Assembly met this year on September 22nd, their Excellencies, the Earl and Countess of Minto were among the guests and spectators. The Speech from the Throne commented on the recent more liberal response of Canada to the financial representations of the Territories, expressed regret that the advocacy of the Provincial autonomy had not produced more tangible results and intimated that no legislation dealing with large public questions would be introduced during the session.

On September 10, 1904, Earl Grey was installed at Halifax as the new Governor-General of Canada. As we have previously seen, Mr. Forget's first term of office as Lieutenant-Governor was completed this year and he was reappointed.

On February 21, 1905, Sir Wilfred Laurier introduced his bill for the creation of the Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the famous "Autonomy Bill."

The pathway of the sponsors of the bills was a very thorny one. Many stalwart Liberals considered that the bill involved an unjustifiable surrender to the wishes of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Even within the Cabinet itself, unanimity was manifestly lacking, and on March 1st, the Honourable Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior, resigned his post by way of protest.

The Government now called to confidential conference the western Liberals,—Messrs. Greenway. J. D. Turriff, Walter Scott and Frank Oliver—

to consider certain proposed modifications in the contentious clauses regarding Separate Schools. Other caucuses were also held, with some of the Ministers present, and on the seventh of March a sub-committee of the Cabinet was appointed to deal with the matter. On the twelfth, Mr. Haultain, at the sacrifice of the certain prospect of being called to the Premiership of which ever of the new Provinces he would choose, came out uncompromisingly against the bill in a remarkable open letter addressed to Sir Wilfred Laurier. The details of this communication will be found in another chapter. On March 20th, the Premier announced a compromise embodied in a revision of the obnoxious cause, and two days afterwards he proposed the second reading of the bill. The Premier's friends considered him vindicated of the charge of undue bias by the fact that the new clause was equally distasteful to the extreme wings of both the Protestant and Catholic parties. Both of these sections deluged the Government with petitions condemnatory of the educational clauses in the bill and various amendments of most contradictory character were introduced and vigorously defended in the House.

Meantime, Air. Frank Oliver had succeeded the Honourable Clifford Sifton as Minister of the Interior, and his reelection by acclamation at Edmonton was interpreted as indicating western approval of the Government's attitude. As a matter of fact, the Territories themselves were much less excited over the controversy than was Eastern Canada. In the North West the term "Separate Schools" connected very different ideas from those associated with it in Ontario.

On the second reading, the amendment introduced by Air. R. L. Borden, leader of the opposition, was defeated by a majority of eighty-one, and shortly afterwards the bill became a law.

On the first of September, 1905, the Province of Alberta, and three days later the Province of Saskatchewan, were formally inaugurated. Mr. Rutherford led the Liberals to overwhelming victory in Alberta in the first Provincial election, November 9th, and on December 13th, the Honourable Walter Scott, who, in view of Mr. Haultain's hostile attitude towards the new constitution, had been called to the first Premiership of Saskatchewan, won a victory only less decisive over Mr. Haultain and his followers, who entitled themselves the "Provincial Rights" party.


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