English Canada tried to avoid fighting Hitler. Yes, that Hitler. The Hitler of Literally Hitler fame.
The narrative we get looks like this. Literally:
King’s primary concerns were to maintain national unity and to assert Canada’s position as an independent country. After Britain declared war on Germany, King announced that the Canadian Parliament would decide on what Canada should do. Parliament was recalled, and, on September 9, gave its approval for entering the war. (source)
This is a very sneaky wording that manages to completely ignore the fact that King wanted nothing to do with declaring war. Stories of panicked special meetings and emergency sessions of Parliament are nice and all, but Mackenzie’s goals as stated happen to strongly pull him towards preferring the option of leaving Hitler alone. The Quebecois certainly pulled hard for a neutral Canada – even in 1942, 80% of them said no to expanding the war efforts through conscription.
Indeed, Mackenzie’s only move in this was to say that Parliament would decide – the “autonomy” bit. This allowed him to play the Liberals’ favorite card – the Janus. From one mouth he told pro-British Canadians that Parliament was sure to throw down on Hitler. From the other he was able to tell the French that the Parliament would surely act in the national best interest. And in his mind the issue was already settled because Parliament was almost certainly going to declare war anyways. Canada declared war a week later than Britain, which has retroactively become a testament to independence because look, you fucks, we’re desperate here!
Canadians like to chide Americans for not wanting to go to war with Germany – in both wars, Canada was out of the gate before the United States. Lend-lease and other vital American aid aside, the United States obviously didn’t want to save the world as much as Canada did. But Canada forgets that it entered the war by sleight of hand rather than by national courage and that the contribution that Canada most wanted to make was in the form of loaning and selling supplies to the Allies. As a united body, Canada was dislocated about the whole thing and effectively muddled its way to war. The Americans, by contrast, joined very deliberately in both cases and in any case were involved in production before. The Zimmerman Dispatch and Pearl Harbor were pretty good reasons for Americans to step up their game.
What’s astonishing about this is how Canada’s foot-dragging, a symptom of the French-English schism and other divisions in the country is recast as heroic and sage of King. Yeah – indecisiveness and delaying the inevitable so you can personally stand clear of the possible eruption of one of Canada’s many cleavages is a sure mark of a heroic, valiant, and noble leader. Meanwhile, AMERIKKKA only joined years later. Canada for the win!