Confederation Debates



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Confederation Debates

i) Tuesday, February 7, 1865



Hon. George Etienne Cartier (Attorney General) [Montreal]

. .. The question for us to ask ourselves was this: Shall we be content to remain separate - shall we be content to maintain a mere provincial exist­ence, when, by combining together, we could become a great nation? It had never yet been the good fortune of any group of communities to secure na­tional greatness with such facility. In past ages, warriors had struggled for years for the addition to their country of a single province... Here, in Brit­ish North America, we had five different communities inhabiting five sepa­rate colonies. We had the same sympathies, and we all desired to live under the British Crown. We had our commercial interests besides. It was of no use whatever that New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland should have their several custom houses against our trade, or that we should have custom houses against the trade of those provinces. In ancient times, the manner in which a nation grew up was different from that of the present day. Then the first weak settlement increased into a village, which, by turns, became a town and a city, and the nucleus of a nation. It was not so in modern times. Nations were now formed by the agglomeration of commu­nities having kindred interests and sympathies. Such was our case at the present moment. Objections had been taken to the scheme now under con­sideration, because of the words "new nationality." Now, when we were united together, if union were attained, we would form a political nationality with which neither the national origin, nor the religion of any individual, would interfere. It was lamented by some that we had this diversity of races, and hopes were expressed that this distinctive feature would cease. The idea of unity of races was utopian - it was impossible. Distinctions of this kind would always exist. Dissimilarity, in fact, appeared to be the order of the physical world and of the moral world, as well as of the political world. But with regard to the objection based on this fact, to the effect that a great nation could not be formed because Lower Canada was in great part French and Catholic, and Upper Canada was British and Protestant, and the Lower Provinces were mixed, it was futile and worthless in the extreme. Look, for instance, at the United Kingdom, inhabited as it was by three great races. (Hear, hear.) Had the diversity of race impeded the glory, the progress, the wealth of England? Had they not rather each contributed their share to the greatness of the Empire? Of the glories... how much was contributed by the combined talents, energy and courage of the three races together? (Cheers.) In our own Federation we should have Catholic and Protestant, English, French, Irish and Scotch, and each by his efforts and his success would in­crease the prosperity and glory of the new Confederacy. (Hear, hear.) He viewed the diversity of races in British North America in this way: we were of different races, not for the purpose of warring against each other, but in order to compete and emulate for the general welfare. (Cheers.) We could not do away with the distinctions of race. We could not legislate for the disappearance of the French Canadians from American soil, but British and French Canadians alike could appreciate and understand their position rela­tive to each other. They were placed like great families beside each other, and their contact produced a healthy spirit of emulation. It was a benefit rather than otherwise that we had a diversity of races. . .

ii) Friday, February 3, 1865

Hon. Sir Etienne-Pascal Tache (Premier, Receiver-General,

Minister of Militia)

Legislation in Canada for the last two years had come almost to a stand still, and if anyone would refer to the Statute Book since 1862, he would find that the only public measures there inscribed had been passed simply by the permission of the Opposition. This was the condition of things for two years, and if this were an evil there was another not less to be deplored; he referred to the adminis­tration of public affairs during the same period. From the 21st May, 1862, to the end of June, 1864, there had been no less than five different Govern­ments in charge of the business of the country...

Lower Canada had constantly refused the demand of Upper Canada for representation according to population, and for the good reason that, as the union between them was legislative, a preponderance to one of the sections would have placed the other at its mercy. It would not be so in a Federal Un­ion, for all questions of a general nature would be reserved for the General Gov­ernment, and those of a local character to the local governments, who would have the power to manage their domestic affairs as they deemed best. If a Fed­eral Union were obtained it would be tantamount to a separation of the prov­inces, and Lower Canada would thereby preserve its autonomy together with all the institutions it held so dear, and over which they could exercise the watch­fulness and surveillance necessary to preserve them unimpaired.. .

~
iii) Wednesday, February 8, 1865

Hon. George Brown (President of the Council) [South Oxford]

. .. Well, sir, the bold scheme in your hands is nothing less than to gather all these countries [Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Lower Canada, Upper Canada, and British Columbia] into one - to organize them all un­der one government, with the protection of the British flag, and in heartiest sympathy and affection with our fellow-subjects in the land that gave us birth. (Cheers.) Our scheme is to establish a government that will seek to turn the tide of European emigration into this northern half of the American continent - that will strive to develop its great natural resources ­and that will endeavor to maintain liberty, and justice, and Christianity throughout the land.

Mr. T. C. Wallbridge - When?

Hon. Mr. Cartier - Very soon!

Hon. Mr. Brown - ... We imagine not that such a structure can be built

in a month or in a year. What we propose now is but to lay the foundations of the structure - to set in motion the governmental machinery that will one day, we trust, extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And we take especial credit to ourselves that the system we have devised, while admirably adapted to our present situation, is capable of gradual and efficient expansion in fu­ture years to meet all the great purposes contemplated by our scheme. But if the honorable gentleman will only recall to mind that when the United States seceded from the Mother Country, and for many years afterwards their popu­lation was not nearly equal to ours at this moment; that their internal im­provements did not then approach to what we have already attained; and that their trade and commerce was not then a third of what ours has already reached; I think he will see that the fulfilment of our hopes may not be so very remote as at first sight might be imagined - (hear, hear). And he will be strengthened in that conviction if he remembers that what we propose to do is to be done with the cordial sympathy and assistance of that great Power of which it is our happiness to form a part. (Hear, hear.) Such, Mr. Speaker, are the objects of attainment to which the British American Conference pledged itself in October. … Does it not lift us above the petty politics of the past, and present to us high purposes and great interests that may well call forth all the intellec­tual ability and all the energy and enterprise to be found among us? (Cheers.)


… Some honorable gentlemen seem to imagine that the members of Government have a deeper interest in ,this scheme than others - but what possible interest can any of us have except that which we share with every citizen of the land? What risk does anyone run from this measure in which all of us do not fully participate? What possible inducement could we have to urge this scheme, except our earnest and heartfelt conviction that it will inure to the solid and lasting advantage of our country? (Hear, hear.)
… We in Upper Canada have complained that though we paid into the public treasury more than three-fourths of the whole revenue, we had less control over the system of taxation and the ex­penditure of the public moneys than the people of Lower Canada. Well, sir, the scheme in your hand remedies that. … All local mat­ters are to be banished from the General Legislature; local governments are to have control over local affairs, and if our friends in Lower Canada choose to be extravagant, they will have to bear the burden of it themselves. (Hear, hear.) No longer shall we have to complain that one section pays the cash while the other spends it; hereafter, they who pay will spend, and they who spend more than they ought will have to bear the brunt. (Hear, hear.) …I am persuaded that this union will inspire new confidence in our sta­bility, and exercise the most beneficial influence on all our affairs. I believe it will raise the value of our public securities, that it will draw capital to our shores, and secure the prosecution of all legitimate enterprises; and what I saw, while in England, a few weeks ago, would alone have convinced me of this. Wherever you went you encountered the most marked evidence of the gratification with which the Confederation scheme was received by all classes of the people, and the deep interest taken in its success...
But, sixthly, Mr. Speaker, I am in favor of the union of the provinces, because, in the event of war, it will enable all the colonies to defend them­selves better, and give more efficient aid to the Empire, than they could do separately. I am not one of those who ever had the war-fever; I have not believed in getting up large armaments in this country; I have never doubted that a military spirit, to a certain extent, did necessarily form part of the character of a great people; but I felt that Canada had not yet reached that stage in her progress when she could safely assume the duty of defence; and that, so long as peace continued and the Mother Country threw her shield around us, it was well for us to cultivate our fields and grow in numbers and material strength, until we could look our enemies fearlessly in the face. But it must be admitted - and there is no use of dosing our eyes to the fact - that this question of defence has been placed, within the last two years, in a totally different position from what it ever occupied before. The time has come - it matters not what political party may be in power in England - when Britain will insist on a reconsideration of the military re­lations which a great colony, such as Canada, ought to hold to the Empire. And I am free to admit that it is a fair and just demand. …

~
Thursday, February 16, 1865

Hon. Antoine Aime Dorion [Hochelaga]

. .. If the scheme proposed to us were an equitable one, or one calculated to meet the wishes of the people of this country; but, as I said a minute ago, the scheme was not called for by any considerable proportion of the popu­lation. It is not laid before the House as one which was demanded by any number of the people; it is not brought down in response to any call from the people; it is a device of men who are in difficulties, for the purpose of getting out of them. (Hear, hear.) ... I come now to another point, viz., is the scheme presented to us the same one that was promised to us by the Administration when it was formed? This, sir, might be but of slight impor­tance if the manner in which this proposed Constitution was framed had not a most unfortunate bearing on the scheme itself; but it is a grave mat­ter, since the scheme is so objectionable, especially as we are gravely told that it cannot be amended in the least, but that it is brought down as a compact made between the Government of this country and delegates from the governments of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island - as a treaty which cannot be altered or amended in any particular. (Hear.) The plain meaning of this is, sir, that the Lower Prov­inces have made out a Constitution for us and we are to adopt it ...

The whole scheme, sir, is absurd from beginning to end. It is but natu­ral that gentlemen with the views of honorable gentlemen opposite want to keep as much power as possible in the hands of the Government … and this Consti­tution is a specimen of their handiwork, with a Governor General appointed by the Crown, with local governors also appointed by the Crown; with leg­islative councils, in the General Legislature, and in all the provinces, nomi­nated by the Crown; we shall have the most illiberal Constitution ever heard of in any country where constitutional government prevails. (Hear.)

... [T]his scheme proposes a union not only with Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland, but also with British Columbia and Vancouver's Island... I must confess, Mr. Speaker, that it looks like a burlesque to speak as a means of defence of a scheme of Con­federation to unite the whole country extending from Newfoundland to Van­couver's Island, thousands of miles intervening without any communication, except through the United States or around Cape Horn. (Oh!) ...

I now come to another point. It is said that this Confederation is neces­sary for the purpose of providing a better mode of defence for this country. There may be people who think that by adding two and two together you make five. I am not of that opinion. I cannot see how, by adding the 700,000 or 800,000 people, the inhabitants of the Lower Provinces, to the 2,500,000 inhabitants of Canada, you can multiply them so as to make a much larger force to defend the country than you have at present. Of course the connec­tion with the British Empire is the link of communication by which the whole force of the Empire can be brought together for defence. (Hear, hear.) But the position of this country under the proposed scheme is very evident. You add to the frontier four or five hundred more miles than you now have, and an extent of country immeasurably greater in proportion than the additional population you have gained; and if there is an advantage at all for the defence of the country, it will be on the part of the Lower Province, and not for us . .. Within a period of four years the Northern States have called into the field 2,300,000 men - as many armed men as we have men, women and chil­dren in the two Canadas - and... we hear every day of more being raised and equipped. It is stated that, in view of these facts, it is incumbent upon us to place ourselves in a state of defence. Sir, I say it here, candidly and hon­estly, that we are bound to do everything we can to protect the country - (Hear, hear.) - but we are not bound to ruin ourselves in anticipation of a supposed invasion which we could not repel, even with the assistance of England. The battles of Canada cannot be fought on the frontier, but on the high seas and at the great cities of the Atlantic coast; and it will be nothing but folly for us to cripple ourselves by spending fifteen or twenty millions a year to raise 50,000 men for the purpose of resisting an invasion of the country. The best thing that Canada can do is to keep quiet and give no cause for war. . .

~
B) Speeches and Letters, 1866



Joseph Howe

Let us see what these Canadians desire to do. They are not, as we have shown, a very harmonious or homogeneous community. Two-fifths of the popula­tion are French and three-fifths English. They are therefore perplexed with an internal antagonism which was fatal to the unity of Belgium and Hol­land, and which, unless the fusion of races becomes rapid and complete, must ever be a source of weakness They are shut in by frost from the outer world for five months of the year. They are at the mercy of a powerful neigh­bour whose population already outnumbers them by more than eight to one, and who a quarter of a century hence will probably present sixty eight mil­lions to six millions on the opposite side of a naturally defenceless frontier. Surely such conditions as these ought to repress inordinate ambition or lust of territory on the part of the public men of Canada. .. While they dis­charge their duties as unobtrusive good neighbours to the surrounding populations, and of loyal subjects of the empire, Great Britain will protect them by her energy in other fields should the Province become untenable but it is evident that a more unpromising nucleus of a new nation can hardly be found on the face of the earth, and that any organized communities, having a reasonable chance to do anything better would be politically in­sane to give up their distinct formations and subject themselves to the domi­nation of Canada.

Thus situated, and borne down by a public debt of $75,000,000, or about $25 in gold per head of their population, the public men of Canada propose to purchase the territories of the Hudson's Bay Company, larger than half of Europe. They propose to assume the government of British Oregon and Vancouver's Island, provinces divided from them by an interminable wilderness, and by the natural barrier of the Rocky Mountains; and they propose to govern Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland - countries severally as large as Switzerland, Sardinia, Greece, and Great Britain, appointing their governors, senators and judges, and ex­ercising over them unlimited powers of internal and external taxation...

Anybody who looks at the map of British America, and intelligently searches its geographical features in connection with its past record and present political condition, will perceive that it naturally divides itself into four great centres of political power and radiating intelligence. The Maritime Prov­inces, surrounded by the sea: three of them insular, with unchangeable boundaries, with open harbours, rich fisheries, abundance of coal, a homo­geneous population, and within a week's sail of the British Islands, form the first division; and the Ashburton Treaty, which nearly severed them from Canada, defines its outlines and proportions. These Provinces now govern themselves, and- do it well, and Canada has no more right to control or in­terfere with them than she has to control the Windward Islands or Jamaica.

These Provinces have developed commercial enterprise and maritime capa­bilities with marvellous rapidity. Three of them can be held while Great Britain keeps the sea. Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island are surrounded by it, and the narrow isthmus of fourteen miles which connects Nova Scotia with the mainland can be easily fortified and can be enfiladed by gunboats on either side. …

Here are colonies within seven days' steaming of these shores, floating

the flag of England over a noble mercantile marine, and training 60,000 seamen and fishermen to defend it, and yet the House of Commons is to be asked to allow some gentlemen in Ottawa to draw these people away from the ocean, which for their own and the general security of the empire they are required to protect, that their hearts may be broken and their lives wasted on interminable frontiers incapable of defence. Parliament, it is hoped, will think twice about this proposition, and of the scheme for launching a prince of the blood into a sea of troubles for the glorification of the Canadians.

Canada forms the second division of British America, in order of se­quence as we ascend from the Atlantic. It is a fine country with great natu­ral resources, and may develop into some such nation as Poland or Hungary. Hemmed in by icy barriers at the north, and by a powerful nation on the south, shut our from deep sea navigation for nearly half the year, with two nationalities to reconcile, and no coal, who will predict for her a very bril­liant destiny at least for many years to come? The best she can do is to be quiet, unobtrusive, thrifty, provoking no enmities, and not making herself disagreeable to her neighbours, or increasing the hazards which her defence involves, by any premature aspirations to become a nation, for which status at present she is totally unprepared...

But it may be asked, do not the Maritime Provinces desire this union? and, if the question includes the Quebec scheme of confederation, it is soon answered. Every one of them rejected it with a unanimity and decision not to be misunderstood. In Prince Edward Island, both branches of the Legis­lature being elective, but five members could be got to vote for it. In New­foundland it was condemned by the people at the polls. In Nova Scotia the leader of the Government was compelled to come down to' the House and declare it "impracticable"; and in New Brunswick the electors, animated by the instinct of self-preservation, rushed to the polls, swept the delegates aside, and trampled it under their feet. Here the matter would have rested had all the Provinces been treated with the justice and impartiality to which they were entitled...
~
C) Annexation or Union with the United States is the Manifest Destiny of British North America, 1868

Alex Munro

In the following pages, we purpose showing that centralization and political union is the manifest destiny of British North America and the United States; that the physical character of the country, and the genius of forty millions of people, clearly point to the union of these two countries...

A large party in the Provinces were in favour annexation to the Ameri­can Republic, as the only safeguard from invasion, and the surest means of

securing commercial progress and the development of the resources of the country. After nearly three years incessant labour, Canada, divided into two Provinces - Quebec and Ontario - with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, has been federately united into one dominion, called the Dominion of Canada. The first session of the first Dominion Parliament closed in 1868. The acts of this memorable Parliament - memorable for wasting the re­sources of the country, and imposing onerous taxes on the people; indeed, nothing but general dissatisfaction has ran throughout the maritime colo­nies. Contrary to the pledges made by the union leaders in the Lower Prov­inces, and in accordance with the predictions of the anti-unionists newspaper postage, stamp and excise duties, and other heavy fiscal burdens are im­posed, which the people, especially in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, are very unwilling to bear.


British North America is not climatically and geographically adapted to form a Nation.
The productive parts of British North America are comprised in a few isolated spots, scattered along a ridge or belt of land, varying in width from one hun­dred to two hundred miles, and stretches across the American Continent, be­tween the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, three thousand miles in extent. On the southern boundary of this ridge, lies the United States; and its northern side is bounded by a great extent of uninhabitable country, sealed in frost and snow for the greater part of the year. From this terra incognita, the cold is driven over the Provinces and adjoining States, with chilling effects on agricultural and other operations. A careful examination of the country, clearly shows that Brit­ish North America is not adapted to constitute a nation, and maintain its inde­pendence. Its boundaries are not rightly adjusted for national existence, and for the extension of the human race - the arts of industry, commerce, and for protection. Its chief rivers, lakes, mountains, and other attributes, are so inter­woven with those of the conterminous States, that it is almost impossible to develop the resources of the Provinces, except by permission of the adjoining Republic; of which, by nature, British North America forms a part. The Co­lumbia Rivers in the interior; the Red and Saskatchewan Rivers in the inte­rior; and the great chain of lakes on the St. Lawrence, connect both countries. …

From the facts here adduced, it is obvious that a large part of British North America is not adapted for continuous settlement; its fertile districts are comparatively small, and separated from each other by extensive tracts of barren lands. Still, its natural resources are vast and varied, which, in un­ion with the United States, would be developed, and the country become the seat of manufacturing industry; money would be more plenty; and emi­grants would flock to the country by thousands, in place of leaving it, as at present, by hundreds...

It is obvious that the agricultural capabilities of these Provinces will not be developed until the country becomes the seats of manufacturing industry, which it is highly capable of; and this cannot be done, as we shall attempt to show, without the Provinces are united to the States. Agriculturally consid­ered, these Provinces are far inferior to the United States; while in a commer­cial point of view they have resources, equal if not superior to the Republic. But without the States for a market, the resources of the Provinces will not be developed, the history of the past clearly proves. It was during the existence of the Reciprocity Treaty that the Provinces made the greatest progress. . .
Union with the United States would give life to manufacturing industry in the Colonies, and extend the commerce of both Countries
. .. But the want of compactness in the colonies, and consequent concentra­tion of their population, with climatic obstructions, and the want of homogenity of the two great races, English and French, with numerous other causes, unfit the colonies to develop their resources. The country is so frag­mentary in its geographical character, and the great distance the populations are apart - the centre of Nova Scotia is twelve hundred miles from the centre of the Ontario population; consequently, the trade between the Upper and Lower Provinces will only be limited...
The Provinces are defenceless
The territorial formation of British North America presents an insurmount­able obstacle to its defence against the United States. With three thousand miles of a frontier bordering upon a populous nation, with whom a causus beli might arise at any time, it would be utterly impossible to defend this country. …

Indeed, no country is more exposed to another, in a defensive point of view, than British North America is to the United States. From the Bay of Fundy to Lake Ontario, six hundred miles, there is only an imaginary line, without a natural or artificial barrier to obstruct the passage of the armies of the Republic into the midst of the most flourishing towns and settlements of these Provinces. … If British North America cannot be defended, it cannot exist as a dependent or separate state. The history of all countries clearly show the correctness of this principle.

What could four millions of people, scattered over a territory stretching from ocean to ocean, three thousand miles apart, do in defending such a frontier? Simply nothing. All the defences they could erect, and all the mili­tia they could train would be powerless compared to the million and a half of armed men, that the thirty-five millions of conterminous people, with all the appliances and accustomed to all the hardships of war, could at a short notice rush into these Provinces. And England, three thousand miles from our borders, and the St. Lawrence sealed in ice for half the year, could not bring her fleet to aid the interior Provinces. The proposed Intercolonial Rail­road, skirting the enemy's country for hundreds of miles, would be liable to be destroyed at numerous places; and rendered useless as a means of con­veying men and munitions of war from Halifax to the interior...

The surest system of defence the Provinces can adopt is a Union with the United States. Then, and not until then, will the Colonies be safe from invasion; and be able to arrest the stream of adolescent population which is continually flowing from their shores. As soon as our young men arrive at manhood they emigrate in large numbers to the Republic...

The inhabitants of these Provinces are really American; their modes of thinking and speaking, their habits of living and acting, their moral attribures

and general progress in civilization, has made them one with the people of the States. And politically, the inhabitants of these Colonies are fast losing sight of the symbols of European royalty; not, through any hostility to Great Britain. …

It is obvious that the climatic character and territorial formation of British North America, presents insurmountable obstacles in the way of governing

it. And when we are officially informed that no probable combination of forces could save the country from destruction, in the event of a war with the United States; and when we know that the foundation of disaffection has been deeply laid, we conclude, that British North America, either as a dependancy or as a separate state never can have a prosperous history: it never can pass through this formative and critical period, and consolidate its remote parts. The geographical formation of the country does not admit of it, or adapt it for a nation. And the conflicting interests of its parts; their dependance on the United States; the aggressive character of the latter, taken in connection with the inability of the Provinces for defence, combine to show that the only means of securing peace, prosperity, and the develop­ment of the resources of the Provinces, is by uniting their destinies with those of the United States...



The youth of these Provinces, like their birds in autumn, are leaving them in large numbers for the Republic. Such has been the run of popula­tion from Quebec, that the Legislature of that Province, at its last sitting, was asked "to devise some means for the arrest of the same." And a large part of the moneys of the Provinces is sent to the United States. Without manufactories are established in the Provinces, and the markets of the Re­public freely opened to us, it is vain to expect these Provinces to progress. The Provinces however have drawn heavily upon the States. Many of their enterprises are in the hands of their American neighbours, who work our mines and telegraph lines, who found our factories, manufacture a large part of our lumber, and supply the farmers and mechanics with the chief part of their implements, and the masses of our people with the greater part of the necessaries of life.


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