ANC-C93223 | Nero "Fiddling" with Politics while the Flames Spread

Nero "Fiddling" with Politics while the Flames Spread
1917, 20th century
This artefact belongs to : © National Archives of Canada
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Keys to History

During the war years Sir Wilfrid Laurier had good reason to hope that voters would repent their decision of 1911 and restore him and his Liberals to power. The Conservative victory had coincided with a deep Depression, mass bankruptcy and unemployment and now a war, corruption in handling war contracts, inadequate recruiting and general ineptitude. The government, in contrast, believed that it had done as well as possible, better than Britain's Liberal government, which at the end of 1916 was toppled by a parliamentary coup. British M.Ps chose a "Win the War" coalition of able Tories and Liberals headed by David Lloyd George. Canada's Robert Borden would do the same if he succeeded in finding "Win the War" Liberals.

Conscription, to meet his proclaimed target of half a million Canadian soldiers, gave Borden what he wanted. Laurier shared Quebec's angry hostility and he certainly did not want his province led by a nationaliste like Henri Bourassa. Some Liberals agreed. Many in English Canada did not, especially in provinces west of Quebec. When the Conservative majority changed the election laws in 1917 to give votes to pro-war women and take them from recent citizens from enemy lands, more Liberals saw the futility of fighting and switched. The result was Borden's Union government of 1917, a general election, and a big defeat for Laurier and the Liberals in English-speaking regions of Canada.

  • What

    The Roman emperor Nero, persecutor of Christians, allegedly amused himself with music while his capital, Rome, burned in 62 AD. In 1917, after Germany defeated Russia, the Allied cause was in serious danger. Was Laurier merely playing politics while the danger grew?

  • Where

    The Fiddler was a wartime pamphlet published in Britain by children's writer Arthur Mee. The pamphlet denounced British leaders for allowing booze and prostitutes to corrupt innocent Imperial soldiers in Britain. It was suppressed in Canada and became famous.

  • When

    Advertising and cartoons on this theme, often even more insulting to Laurier's patriotism, appeared during Canada's 1917 General Election campaign. It ended on December 17 with a Unionist victory.

  • Who

    Union Government supporters expect readers to recognize the popular reference to a cruel, dissolute and inept Emperor in popular versions of Roman history.