Collective Action of the Maritimers: Maritime Rights Movement

The Good Old Days

Prior to the confederation, Canada used to operate as a divided nation where each region undertook its development agendas and economic development on their own. The Maritimers enjoyed the fruits of its land – fishes, railroad, farming and lumber. The Maritime region was full of opportunities and resources. Merchants enjoyed good trade in the region with little tariffs and low freight rates. The Maritimers also acted as a united community where each individual in each of the three Maritime Provinces enjoyed the resources of their region. Standards of living at the Maritimes were high even though the people still engaged in traditional practices. In terms of governance, the Maritimers governed themselves and there was no interference from other provinces. Manufacturers and fishermen also enjoyed the system of free trade in the area. However, this only lasted as long as the confederation.

The Confederation: Good for the Goose, Bad for the Gander

The confederation began in 1867. It entailed uniting together all the provinces of the Canada including the Maritime Provinces. This could lead to relinquishing of the Maritime autonomy and independence. All resources were to be shared under new National Policy. A federal government was formed, and it would be based in central Canada, at Quebec. Due to the need to maintain the status quo and enjoy the privileges of the Maritime region, some Maritimers were opposed to the confederation idea.

However, those who opposed it later decided to join because they feared the economic uncertainty of being left out of the confederation. Therefore, in the end all provinces of Canada became one confederation which was headed by one central government.  Each province was to be represented by a member in the federal confederation while the prime minister was to head the federal cabinet which was responsible for setting national policies that would govern all provinces.

Due to the authority vested on the federal government to set national policies, there were policies the central government formulated which discriminated against the maritime region. For instance, the Inter-colonial was moved from Maritimes to Ontario. Furthermore, new tariffs were set and freight rates were increased. All these policies favored the central government but the Maritimes region suffered from what emerged to be an inequality. The ports of Maritime region were also controlled by the central government.

Furthermore, political representation of the Maritimers in the federal government was also very minimal. No one could represent the interests of the Maritimes in the federal government and the federal representations. There were also policies that involved relief that was offered to all provinces to help poor people in Canada. Maritimes received a very small share of such grant. This increased the problems of the Maritimes which already suffered the problem of economic disparity. Due to the tariffs and the new freight rates, merchants and manufacturers suffered. Their businesses could no longer be profitable and the costs of production increased in great percentages. The local consumers were also hit hard by the disparity as their means of livelihood were taken away and controlled by the central government.

The Maritime Rights Movement

Due to these problems of the maritime region, the Maritimers decided to fight for their rights. Led by various politicians, business people, company managers and manufacturers, the people of the Maritime began to agitate for their rights in many ways. Workers started to hold strikes in 1916 while manufactures and merchants sent delegates to the federal government to present their complains, including reduction of freight rates, abolishment of tariffs, restoration of Maritime ports, and reclamation of the Intercolonial to the Maritime ownership.

This led to the formation of the Maritimes Rights Movement which presented candidates for various representative positions in the general elections of 1922 onwards. Each person who vied under the Maritime Rights docket had the interests of the Maritimes at heart. A few of them who were elected in 1921 and 1922 fought for the interests of the Maritimes, but the Prime Minister King Mackenzie did not listen to their pleas. Maritimes Rights continued to fight for positions until they got majority representation at the federal house of representatives of the Maritimes region in 1926. This led their agitations to be heard.

Successes and Failures of the Collective Action

The Prime Minister confirmed his commitment to granting the Maritimes their wish. He promised to lower the tariffs and freight rights. He also promised to develop the part of St. John. However, there were some elements of the agreement between the Prime Minister and the representatives of the Maritimes which had not been fulfilled until the great depression of 1930s. Therefore, the Maritimes’ collective actions were successful in one way and unsuccessful in another. The collective action was unsuccessful in that not all the interests and issues of the Maritime Provinces were solved as a result of the collective action because the Prime Minister did not honor part of his commitment to accept the requests of the Maritimers. On the other hand, the collective action led the prime minister to address some of the problems encountered by the Maritimers and set the platform for future political commitment and responsibility towards the Maritime interests.

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