The 1911 federal election, in which the Conservatives defeated the Liberal government, was fought largely on the question of what role Canada should play in the common defence of the British Empire. At the time, Britain was engaged in a naval arms race with the German Empire. While the Liberals and Conservatives both agreed that the best long-term maritime defence policy would be for Canada to acquire its own navy, the Conservatives vehemently objected to Liberal Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier’s Naval Service Bill, which called for construction of that fleet to begin immediately. As Opposition Leader, Borden argued that Laurier’s plan to operate an autonomous fleet of five cruisers and six destroyers was a wholly inadequate response to the Empire's apparently pressing need.
What was not yet well known within Britain or Canada was that by 1912 the German government had quietly scaled back its naval ambitions in favour of strengthening its army. The Germans had made this policy change in secret, and in any event the Admiralty strenuously downplayed reports that the Germans might have been giving up on their attempt to surpass the Royal Navy. As the new Prime Minister of Canada, Borden visited the United Kingdom in 1912 to accept the knighthood that was customarily granted at the time to Dominion Prime Ministers. While in the U.K., at the urging of the First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, Prime Minister Borden agreed to finance the construction of three dreadnoughts for $35 million.
The Conservative plan was at least three times more costly than the Liberal plan to construct a Canadian-operated fleet, and would reap no benefits to Canadian industries whatsoever. On December 5, 1912, Borden introduced the Naval Aid Bill as a one-time contribution to Britain's navy. After a bitter debate and a long filibuster by the opposition Liberals, the Borden government invoked closure on the debate, for the first time ever in Canadian Parliament, on May 15, 1913. The Act was soundly defeated by the Liberal-majority Senate two weeks later.
2nd Session, 12 Parliament, 3 George V., 1912-13
THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, CANADA
An Act to authorize measures for increasing the effective naval forces of the Empire.