With the adoption of the National Policy by the government of John A. Macdonald (1815-1891) in the late 1870s, Canada embarked on a period of economic protectionism in which the federal government tried to stimulate Canadian manufacturing and encourage consumers to purchase Canadian goods.
The underlying purpose of the policy was to promote the development of Canada as a strong and independent nation. The policy would soon include initiatives intended to support national economic development and the distribution of merchandise, like the construction of railways and canals and the improvement of port facilities, as well as the colonization of the Western provinces.
As this cartoon implies, Canada’s economic partners, Great Britain and the United States, represented here as peddlers, should be required to pay duties on all goods sold in the Canadian market.
Tariffs are sums of money collected by a nation on all imported goods. When they are very high, such as those imposed by the National Policy, they constitute economic protectionism. When they are low or non-existent, this is known as free trade.
Most foreign products then entering the Canadian market came from the United States, its powerful neighbour to the south, and Great Britain, the colonial power with which Canada still had very close links.
This cartoon was published on March 8, 1879, or just eight days before the unveiling of the Conservative budget that officially implemented stiff tariffs on manufactured products imported from outside of Canada.
Government authorities are represented here by Officer Macdonald, a direct reference to Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, the politician responsible for the National Policy. He is being addressed by John Bull and Uncle Sam, symbols of Great Britain and the United States, respectively.
Bélanger, Claude. “The National Policy and Canadian Federalism,” Marianopolis College, Studies on the Canadian Constitution and Canadian Federalism [online] [http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/federal/npolicy.htm] (page consulted May 8, 2007).
Brown, Robert Craig. “National Policy,” The Canadian Encyclopedia [online] [http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=J1ARTJ0005632] (page consulted May, 8 2007).
Johnson, J. K. and P. B. Waite. “Macdonald, Sir John Alexander,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. XII. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991, p. 643-666.
Morton, Desmond. A Short History of Canada. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1997.
“Canada and the World. 1867-1896: Forging a Nation,” Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada [online] [http://www.international.gc.ca/department/history/canada2-en.asp] (page consulted May 8, 2007).