Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Free Trade in Canada


[This article was written in 1948. For the exact citation, see the end of the text.]


Free Trade has often been advocated in Canada as a sounder basis of tariff policy than protection. In actual practice, reciprocal arrangements like the Elgin treaty (1854-66) or additions to the free list from time to time, have been the only approach to it. The doctrines of Cobden and Bright have never been embodied in the tariff. The various provinces, before uniting, were obliged to impose duties on some imports to provide revenues. In 1859 the Galt tariff for Upper and Lower Canada was avowedly to foster native industries. The United States complained of these increased duties as infractions of the spirit of the existing treaty. In reply to both British and American criticisms, A. T. Galt, addressing the colonial secretary, successfully asserted Canada 's right to complete freedom in tariff framing. Galt ranked as a free-trader, as did nearly all the founders of the Dominion. Sir John Macdonald was reluctant at first to declare that the National Policy, adopted in 1879, would be on protectionist lines. Free trade, as a slogan, is usually connected with Liberal statesmen, and under their governments duties have, in the main, been kept as low as was practicable. George Brown, Alexander Mackenzie, Sir R. Cartwright, Edward Blake, and in his later days Sir Wilfrid Laurier, proclaimed free trade as the ultimate goal of their policies. For the downward revision of the tariff in 1897 and for his utterances to this effect in England during the jubilee of that year, Laurier was given the Cobden Club medal. The increasingly high tariffs enacted at Washington have always been held to justify a measure of protection by Canada , and Edward Blake's Malvern speech (1886) expounds this view.



Corn Laws

Imperial Preference

National Policy



[On contemporary free trade in Canada , consult the articles in the Canadian Encyclopedia on free trade and on Canadian-American economic relations . The article on free trade at the Wikipedia encyclopedia is also very useful to understand the concept.]


Source: W. Stewart WALLACE "Free Trade", in The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. II, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., pp. 396-397.





© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College