In 1930, Canadian voters elected a prime minister who promised to put “Canada First.” Richard Bedford Bennett, the Conservative leader, channelled popular rage over abusive United States tariffs into a landslide victory. Bennett promised retaliatory duties as onerous as those faced by Canadian exporters, and said he would strike trade agreements with members of the British Empire to reduce Canada’s dependence on its southern neighbour.
The new prime minister made good on those promises. Bennett took the tit-for-tat game to another level. And after the Imperial Economic Conference of 1930 fell short of his goals, he urged his counterparts to meet again. In 1932, Bennett hosted a second assembly of dominions in Ottawa, securing preferential trade agreements with the U.K. and five other nations. Deals with India and Newfoundland soon followed.
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