The National Policy is the collective term used to describe the series of initiatives developed by the Canadian government after Confederation to transform Rupert’s Land into a political and economic unit. The ultimate goal of these policies was to forge a self-sufficient national Canadian economy. Central to this goal was the adoption of a land policy aimed at inducing immigrants to settle in the West, the construction of a trans-continental railway system, the creation of a federal police force, and the implementation of a protective tariff on manufactured goods.
Aspects of the National Policy were extremely controversial at the time and continue to provoke debate among historians. The federal government at the time was closely allied to the business community of central Canada, which saw the West as a hinterland to be exploited for its own benefit. There is little doubt that the regional interests of the West were subordinated to a definition of national interest that primarily benefited the central Canadian economic and political elite.
Westerners at the time developed a variety of practical grievances. These included a land policy which left some of the best land in the hands of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the railways; a two-tier freight rate which discriminated against western customers and ensured a monopoly for the Canadian Pacific Railway; and a tariff structure which inflated the cost of household goods and agricultural equipment, thereby undermining the profitability of western farmers. These grievances formed the basis of an enduring sense of western alienation, which has periodically given rise to protest movements or regionally based third parties such as the Progressive Party, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and the Reform Party (see Conservative Party of Canada). Although these parties differed in structure and ideology, all were dedicated to ensuring that all regions of the country shared the benefits of Confederation equally.