Comment by artist John Wilson Bengough on this cartoon originally published in Grip, December 2nd, 1876 :

  • "That the adoption of the Protective Policy was a mere piece of political tactics on the part of the Conservative leader was demonstrated in every move from first to last. He and his chief supporters in Parliament had been throughout their whole public career adherents of the revenue-tariff system equally with their opponents, and it was asking too much of public credulity to require the people to believe that they had been soundly converted to Protectionism in a moment, and that moment just before a general election when there was wide-spread grumbling at the hard times. "1

Well before they assumed power in September 1878, the Conservatives under John A. Macdonald (1815-1891), seen here seated atop the pole of “public opinion,” were lobbying for their National Policy. This economic development program was intended to stimulate Canadian manufacturing through the implementation of high tariffs on goods entering Canada.

However, as this cartoon shows, there were many critics of the Conservatives’ economic direction and blatant political opportunism. John A. Macdonald had in fact tried to negotiate a free trade agreement with the Americans during the discussions that led to the Treaty of Washington in 1871. But by the Winter session of Parliament in 1877 the Conservatives were openly calling for economic protectionism!
Free trade is an economic policy characterized by the absence of customs barriers as a means of promoting trade between nations. In contrast, protectionism is a system by which government intervenes to protect industry, notably by imposing high tariffs.

When this cartoon was published, the Conservatives led by John A. Macdonald were not in power, but rather formed the official opposition in the House of Commons in Ottawa

The National Policy became one of the key points in the Conservative platform when the Liberals under Alexander Mackenzie (1822-1892) failed to conclude a new reciprocity agreement with the United States in 1874-1875 and then did not raise Canadian tariffs in the 1876 budget.

John A. Macdonald is known in particular for his role as a Father of Confederation and Canada’s first prime minister, but he also sat as leader of the opposition in Ottawa from 1873 to 1878.


Bélanger, Claude. “The National Policy and Canadian Federalism,” Marianopolis College, Studies on the Canadian Constitution and Canadian Federalism [online] [] (page consulted May 8, 2007).

Brown, Robert Craig. “National Policy,” The Canadian Encyclopedia [online] [] (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, p. 107-121.

“Canada and the World. 1867-1896: Forging a Nation,” Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada [online] [] (page consulted May 8, 2007).

1 Excerpt from: Bengough, John Wilson. A Caricature History of Canadian Politics: Events from the Union of 1841, as Illustrated by Cartoons from "Grip", and Various Other Sources. Toronto: The Grip Printing and Publishing Co, 1886.
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