Monday, August 19, 2013

Dunsmuir as Premier

This pole was created by Zac George, in honour of his grandfather, Chief Dan George. The elder George was chief of Tsleil-Waututh First Nation as well as an author and Academy-award nominated actor. This pole was installed in front of the Pacific Coliseum at Hastings Park in 2010.

When last we left off, I gave you a brief summary of James Dunsmuir's political career. Today, I will look at it more closely.

Critics at the time and historians have accused Dunsmuir of entering politics for his own purposes but James sometimes acted against what would seem to be his personal advantage. Like when, in 1902, his government brought in a redistribution bill that would shift the political balance in the assembly from Vancouver Island to Vancouver and Kootenay mining district to better reflect the growth of population there. Even though this meant a loss of two seats on the island - one in Esquimalt where Dunsmuir would soon build his new house and his own seat of South Nanaimo. With the introduction of a small tax per ton on coal and coke, taxes on the gross output of mines and a graduated income tax, the Nelson Daily Miner admitted that "those terrible Dunsmuirs improve on nearer acquaintance." The Rossland Record, also in the Kootenays, cited these financial levies as evidence of the "Premier's ability to set public duty above private interest."

Dunsmuir's record on Asian labour was more complex. He was the province's largest employer of Asian labour and during the election campaign of 1900, he promised to remove Chinese workers from his operations in the Nanaimo area. And he did start the removal, prompting the Nanaimo Herald to say it would "suspend our invectives until we have evidence that he has fooled the people."
Obviously, Dunsmuir was aware of the severity of public dissent on the issue of Asian labour. James even warned Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier in 1900 that agitation would grow to "undesirable prominence" unless the federal government increased the poll tax on Chinese immigration. When Dunsmuir was lieutenant governor, he reserved provincial legislation that attempted to restrict Asian immigration on the grounds that it encroached on federal jurisdiction.

Yet Dunsmuir sent out mixed signals. As an employer, he fought in court against government restrictions on hiring Asians, eventually winning a judgement in his favour. However, he took 50 cents to a dollar per month from each“each Chinaman working in and around the mines . . . to cover part of the costs of carrying the Chinese case” to this highest court of appeal. While as lieutenant governor, Dunsmuir secretly negotiate with the Canadian Nippon Supply Company for the importation of 500 more Japanese workers - an order the company was unable to fill. It would seem that business considerations generally triumphed with Dunsmuir if he had to make a choice.

The Dunsmuir government seemed to have its remaining focus on railways and a "pack of charter mongers" who pushed through the house 17 bills with the aid of private members. Dunsmuir took no direct part in these though he replaced land grants in support of construction with cash subsidies to be paid only when a line had been completed and approved. He also revived former Premier Walkem's fight with Ottawa over terms of confederation. B.C. was facing increasing deficits and Dunsmuir pointed out that eastern provinces had come into confederation with an infrastructure of public works already in place. He requested that his province receive compensation.
James began to divest himself of his corporate empire during his ten-year tenure in politics. In 1905, he sold the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway and its land grant to the Canadian Pacific Railway for $2,300,000 and with that deal, became a director of the CPR. It wasn't a surprise though when he retained the lands necessary to mine and transport coal under the entire grant - which covered a third of the island. In 1910, he sold his mining empire to the Canadian National Railway interests for $11,000,000. The new constituted subsidiary was called Canadian Collieries (Dunsmuir) Limited. That was unfortunate because it kept the Dunsmuir name prominently displayed on Vancouver Island for radical labour to despise even though family owned no shares and played no part in the management.

Here's a big surprise for you. I would like to thank the Dictionary of Canadian Biography website for the information above. Wednesday, I will tell you about this hard working, wealthy man who led our province. Wednesday will also be my 500th entry! 

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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  1. America and Canada seem to face very similar problems with bringing in help from other countries. Our state of dysfunction is with our Mexican neighbors who cross into this country and take jobs from the natural born citizens. I like the idea of head tax on the procreation because now the majority has switched. It is only human nature for American citizens to resent those who illegally obtain jobs we so desperately need. Blessed be to all.

    1. It is a volatile situation. Thanks for reading and commenting.