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Canada was founded as a nation on two distinct cultures and two very different languages . The end productbeing two nations in one sovereign state . For the French speaking Canadians , it is an endless struggle to retain their separate culture . For many French Canadians the most common emotion felt is that they have never received cultural , political and economic equality to the extent the English -speaking Canadians have. In the 20th century , the relationship between English and French Canadians has deteriorated because of the fact that French Canadians feel that they have been treated as second class citizens .The Conscription Crisis of 1917 and 1939 – 1945 only added to this sentiment and brought forth many different attitudes in a fragile Canada .The people of Quebec also felt as if they were being pushed and compressed tightly into their province by the thoughtlessness of the English Canadians . ” How could French Canadiens – the only real Candaians – feel loyal to a people who had conquered and humiliated them , and were Protestant anayway ? France herself was no better ; she had deserted her Canadians a century and a half ago , had left them in the snow and ice along the St . Lawernce surrounded by their enemies , had later murdered her anoited king and turned athiest … if a people deserted God they were punished for it , and France was being punished now . ” 1This sort of sentiment was one that was shared by many French Candiens . French-English relations were already suffering and continued to do so before World War 1 . But the biggest strains occurred when issues of Canadian participation in World war 1 and 2 were mentioned . Most of the strain originated from Quebec .Conscription was be the nail that drove a wedge deep into the
national unity of the country and would serve as a precursor to the modern developments in Canadian unity . Twice in the twentieth century conscription destroyed national unity. It tore apart political parties and it greatly divided French Canadians from English Canadians forever. There were mixed feelings all around
Canada , tensions built, patience was stretched and friends would become enemies . Twice in Canada’s history conscription proved to be an ill fated plague that ate away at the nationalistic structure that
Canadians had struggled to build . So why all the controversy ? Was the hell conscription wrought on all the country , especially Quebec truly necessary ?
No it was not necessary !I believe that the conscription crisis of the Second World War was not as damaging to Canada as a whole as that of 1917 . When the first conscription crisis occurred in 1917 , Canada was inexperienced , it did not have the abilities or capabilities to handle such a crisis , yet the political question was clear , could national unity be preserved . In 1917 it was not , French Canada found itself virtually unrepresented in the seats of power in Ottawa . The war was not only a war that would be
fought with guns on a foreign shore but with pride and frustration in the province of Quebec , pride for the French language and culture , and frustration over Prime Minister Borden’s broken promise concerning conscription . For Quebec their language was their biggest weapon in their arsenal as it meant for them the maintenance of their culture . The tragedy in both wars went far beyond the number of casualties , the real problem lay between the two Canadian races and their inability to resolve any differences at a time when the
demands of war should have been brining them closer together . In the Second World War , it was Prime Minister Mackenzie King that would attempt to hold together the pieces of national unity that had been
crushed by the nail of the first conscription crisis .
Conscription in 1917 was one of the biggest issues that shook the Canadian political structure . Critics argue that conscription allowed Canada to help Britain and France defeat Germany and thus
providing Canada with national untiy ; however , many other critics argue that conscription was needless because it unnecessarily split the country and caused a breakdown in the political harmony the French and English had struggled to achieve . Conscription certainly did allow Canada to defend Great Britain and prove its patriotic ties , but it without a doubt severed any ties between the French and English Canadians . Was Conscription in 1917 a path that was necessary to be followed by all Canadians ? I , think it was not . It forced the French Canadiens to battle for a country they did not feel loyal to . Subsequently conscription raised the cost of living and created growing social unrest , ultimately destroying the very essence of
national unity between the two cultures . Conscription did not bring national unity to the young country , instead it brought war to Canada. The fight would be between French Canadiens and English Canadians, yet there would be no real victor in this war . The product of conscription is a country threatened , to this day , with division .The beginning of the Great War was welcomed with enthusiasm in Canada. It would be short and glorious , and full of adventure . Sure there might be a few casualties, but the war was only going to last a
few short months , at least that what people thought . All around Canada men rushed to sign up for regiments . But the horrors of trench warfare soon changed this . In April 1917 Canadians fought at Vimy
Ridge . In that month more than 10,000 Canadians died . Less than 5,000 volunteered to join the army .The volunteer system was not recruiting enough soldiers to replace the losses . Prime Minister Bordern had promised his government would not introduce conscription . They would not force men to join the army . But now he felt his promise had to be broken .
The most important result of the crisis was the French Canadian response to conscription , it actedas an ignition to the cause of war within Canada itself . The enthusiasm over “Britains War” was not shared by the French and they felt no duty to support them . The once optimistic outlooks that filled the streets of
Montreal in August of 1914 had quickly diminished and was replaced with ” it’s not Canada’s war , Canada owes nothing to Britain and less to France . ” 2 The French response to conscription was one of negative attitudes . There was no love for Britain nor for France . In search of the answer as to why there was a deep rooted resentment towards Britain , thus conscription it is necessary to look at the animosity from its beginnings : confederation . The outcome of confederation was not living up to what the French expected .
For people in Quebec confederation had not been a coming together of provinces . Instead , it was supposed to be a breaking apart of the strait-jacket union of the Canadas , a freeing of the provinces so that Quebec could control its own destiny in areas that it believed to be of importance.3 But the conscription crisis proved that there destiny was at the hands of the English Canadian government . The war that was going on across the Atlantic was of no importance to the French . For the French Canadians , Canada was a country of two peoples , each with equal rights . Yet those rights were seized , taken away with the implementation of conscription .
The problem between Quebec and conscription laid the foundation for national crisis . To the French Canadiens , war meant a large army , having a large army meant the threat of conscription , and conscription meant being forced by the English – Canadian majority to fight in a war for Britain , the conqueror of New France . Essentially conscription meant that young men of French Canada would be torn from their families to fight in a war they did not approve of nor understand .
The French Canadian farmers were also greatly affected by conscription . Farming was the industry closely connected to the war effort because it was the source of food for many Canadian soldiers . Many young men were conscripted . This left many farmers with huge amounts of work , there was little hired help . Most of the eligible workers had been conscripted . Borden’s goal was to conscript an additional 100,000 on top of the 85,000 men that were already serving in the Canadian Corps ; however only 2400 were at the front when the war ended .4 It was nearly impossible to send all the Canadian fighters food or even overseas to fight . With the shortage in farming wages dropped and prices increased thus creating
depression . The hard times could have been avoid if the Canadian government would have realized that the French were not interested in flighting in the war ; a type of program where the French Canadiens could participate in the war at home by helping in farming and munitions would have bee better than having conscription .
The French-Canadians were not prepared to fight . They doubted the English ways and had much reason too . The Ontario school issue , which minimized the right to teach the French living in Ontario their native language . The early failure to establish a French -Canadian military unit and the fact that many of the recruiters of the war were Elite English Protestants , made them question the loyalty Britain had to the French Canadians . Britain had once guaranteed French Canadian liberty , language , traditions, culture , faith and most importantly freedom . But it did not give the very right to exercise that very freedom , simply by forcing to fight in their war . Borden believed conscription would be necessary to the success of national unity -in essence , it would force English and French to communicate and work together as an independent country . However conscription only worked to shatter any sense of national pride which . An example of this is when the French and English were conscripted , they were often joined all together on one battle field . Borden’s view of having a friendly partnership did not work . There were no military units that consisted of solely French , this also helped in creating a negative outlook towards the Canadian army . There was very little communication between t the French and English because of the language barrier , therefore , they could let eachother know when they were in possible danger . How could anyone expect the French to be sympathetic
to fight in a war for a country they has no ties to or to an army that didn’t understand them and pushed them
Conscription was a deterrent from national unity . It brought about bitterness, resentment and hostility to a country who was attempting to create peace . Why did the French have to participate anyway ? Although volunteer recruitment was diminishing quickly , and necessary action was needed in order to ensure Britain’s success ; however when the elites of the English upper class , under the supervision of Borden himself , recruited mostly French – Canadian men , it simply created more animosity between the two cultures . If Britain were to have been in grave danger then the risks and implications that surrounded conscription could have possibly been accepted . But Britain had built a reputation that was founded on
strength and efficiency . American troops were on their way to join in and aid the British . Many English Canadians felt a sense of loyalty towards the mother country , but that did not mean they had to impose this sense of loyalty on to the French .
In response , to Borden’s assumption that conscription would unify Canada and act as a force that would evoke peace and instill pride in all Canadians of all cultural backgrounds , the French Canadians rioted in May 24 , 1917 , stateting that they would fight before they went over seas against their will .5 Instead of acknowledging the concerns of the French people Borden stood to his stubborn view that conscription would strengthen unity and Canada’s international reputation . The effects of his decisions can
be seen today in Quebec’s direct distrust and dislike towards the many imposed Canadian issues , the conscription crisis of 1917 being the most important .
However the conscription crisis of the Second World War is of equal significance because it to split the country into two . Conscription was forced down the throats of French Canadiens again . Quebec had no desire to fight another war for Britain , the war was fought in the province . ” Listen ” , Quebeckers
would say to English Canadians , ” do you think Canada would be at war if Britain were not ? “. Nobody could answer the question affirmatively , but the answer was clear in the minds of French Canadiens , No Canada would not !6 It was an English war , and if the English Canadians wanted to die for Britain that was
up to them ; but they did not have the right to impose their needs on the people of Quebec . In the Great War there were around 35,000 French Canadians who served in the armed forces . Between 1939 and 1945, however , between three and four times that number saw service . The reality of the situation forced the French Canadiens to realize that there was no security for Canada unless there was peace in the world . Yet that realization was not shared by all French Canadiens .
Prime Minister Mackenzie King like Borden was in a very delicate position , he had to “tip toe”7one way for his ministers and another for the French Candiens , King also broke his promise
concerning conscription . Yet in attempts to satisfy Quebec , he emphasized that conscription was not yet necessary , mights never be necessary , and would only resort to it as a last resort . His phrase that will never be forgotten by those affected by conscription ” not necessarily conscription , but conscription if necessary . ” 8 Conscription became law in Canada . King was relieved because he was assured that if he needed to inflict conscription he could , although he hoped he would never have to . The most important result of the crisis was that French Canada felt itself betrayed . This was the second time that a Prime Minister had broken his promise and the result would be that no federal leader would be regarded with
complete confidence by French Canada.
Conscription affected Canada twice , the negative effects without a doubt outweighed the good effects . Twice it jeopardized the Canadian economy , and its effects are still present today . It jeopardized the national unity of the French and English Canadians then , and the effects are evident today . Conscription in both wars was not necessary , it caused deep scares on the face of Canada that have never healed . Conscription was not only about helping Britain in the First World War and proving Canada was no longer a satellite of Britain in the Second World War but it was also a way in which peace was hoped to be formed and unify Canada as one nation ; however the effects were reversed and the only thing conscription brought to Canada was war – destroying any patriotic sense the French might have ever felt towards Canada . It also threatened the economic success of the country . The war in Europe was not Canada’s war, yet Canada became the victim . Canadas primary concern should have to stay at home and repair the domestic problems that were facing all Canadians , before going to the aid of another country . It is incontrovertible
that conscription did not help to unify Canada as one nation but instead acted as an obstacle in the way of national unity . Canadians must work hard and quickly to smooth over the anger , and preserve Canada as a whole.
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