BY 1917, CANADA had had its fair share of unique finance ministers.
There had been Alexander Galt, Canada's first minister of finance, who had resigned before the first Parliament had even met.
His successor, Sir Francis Hincks caused the resignation from the Conservative ranks of one of it's brightest young back-benchers.
That same back-bencher, Richard Cartwright became Minister of Finance during the short four-year prime ministership, 1873 to 1878, of the Right Hon. Alexander Mackenzie.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier quelled a separatist provincial government in Nova Scotia by bringing its premier into the federal cabinet, as finance minister.
William Fielding remained at the position for 15 consecutive years, and later returned under Mackenzie King in 1921 for another four.
It was during the 10-year hiatus in Fielding's cabinet career that Conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden appointed Sir Thomas White (pictured, left) to the ministry.
White, a lawyer and former trust company manager, would soon be entrusted with the finances of the young Dominion during the terrible crisis of World War I.
On April 24, 1917, White tabled his annual budget in the House of Commons.
Despite the recent entry of the United States into the conflict, the military requirements of the allies was draining the resources of Canada. From Baghdad to the North Sea, men, equipment and supplies were in constant need.
The cost of the war to Canada had reached $600-million, White told the House. This, in 1916 dollars.
Already, Great Britain and the United States had implemented income tax schemes but, added White:
"... it would appear to me that income tax should not be resorted to (in Canada)."
At least not until the House went into Committee of the Whole, on July 25, 1917.
On that day, the 50-year old finance minister tabled a resolution which called for income tax: 4% on all income of single men over $2,000. For others, the personal exemption was $3,000.
For those Canadians with annual incomes of more than $6,000, the tax rate ranged from 2 to 25 per cent.
SIR THOMAS WHITE - Minister of Finance (Leeds): Mr. Chairman, I desire today to lay before this committee proposals for a national measure of income taxation. Hitherto we have relied upon duties of customs and of excise, postal rates and other miscellaneous sources of revenue. Canada has been, and will continue during the lifetime of those present today, to be a country inviting immigration. I have, therefore, thought it desirable that we should not be known to the outside world as a country of heavy individual taxation.
We are, however, confronted with grave conditions arising out of the war. The time has arrived when we must resort to direct taxation. I am confident, Mr. Chairman, that the people of Canada, whose patriotism during this war has been so often and so nobly proven, will, in light of present conditions, which call for it, cheerfully accept the burden and the sacrifice of this additional taxation.
We cannot see very far ahead in these days. We do not know how long this war will last. We do not know what the attitude of the people of this country will be upon the many questions, social, industrial, financial and fiscal.
Therefore, I have placed no time limit upon this measure but merely have placed upon Hansard the suggestion that, a year or two after the war is over, the measure should be reviewed by the minister of finance of the day, with a view of judging whether it is suitable to the conditions which then prevail.
White hoped his tax would not much outlast the war.
In fact, he insisted on calling his bill the "War Tax Upon Income" bill.
But conventional wisdom was best expressed by opposition finance critic, Alexander Maclean (Maclean):
"I have no doubt, that once we have embarked upon it, the judgment of the country will be that it should be continued for many years to come."
Maclean was not to be mistaken.
Soon, a hundred years will have passed since the federal government received the authority to levy a temporary "war" income tax upon Canadians.