“British America”, The Scotsman (29 November 1865)
By: The Scotsmen
Citation: “British America”, The Scotsman [Edinburgh] (29 November 1865).
QUEBEC, November 17, 1865.
IN CANADA and the neighbouring provinces the public mind is at present solely occupied, so far as it can be said to be occupied at all, with the questions fo Confederation and Reciprocity. The Fenian movement has for some weeks formed a diversion amusing rather than exciting in its nature, people in Canada regarding the very explicit details of Canadian Fenianism which appear in the New York papers as illustrations of the well-known Yankee-Hibernian ingenuity in matters of fiction. Were these papers to be credited, the state of matters in Canada must be very bad, particularly in the upper province, where a few days ago things were said to have reached such a pitch that a run on the banks had commenced, and people were leaving the country in alarm, while large numbers of armed Fenians crossed the frontier by the trains at the same time that these loyal but alarmed capitalists made their escape in an opposite direction. Such was the state of matters at Toronto, as tersely described by special telegrams from day to day in the lively but not veracious columns in the New York Herald, which, though not singular in this respect among New York papers, enumerates its correspondents at the well-known rate of “a penny a line and a dollar a lie.” The Toronto people were not exactly surprised, for nobody is surprised at the deliberate falsehoods which are published daily. The habit is not to believe printed statements, but to suspend belief until they are fully verified from independent sources. Hence arises an indifference which is apt to be misunderstood for acquiescence. There are people who are credulous enough to believe everything they read with their eyes, and there are others who are only too glad to get hold of any exciting topic for discussion, even though they may have a shrewd notion that the information on which they profess to rely is unfounded. Thus, it was not until the alarming state of affairs at Toronto had become the subject of general remark in the press that these telegraphic reports were noticed at Toronto as the merest fables. With a view to the possibility of some insane attempt by Fenians in the United States to follow the example of the St Albans raiders, the Provincial Government ordered out several companies of volunteers, amounting altogether to about 500 men. A company left Quebec yesterday for Niagara; and other points along the frontier at which bodies of armed men might attempt to cross are being occupied by small forces of volunteers, who will be none the worse of the military exercise. Of course, the only likelihood of their having anything to do arises from the Fenians being such fools as to be capable of attempting the most crazy undertakings. The heroic achievements of Widow M’Cormick’s cabbage garden may be re-enacted with a view to the conquest of Canada. But the people of Canada are not frightened: they have not commenced a run on the banks; they are not lying to the States for safety; the Government is not in a paid. The New York Herald of two days ago, after telling its readers that this is the state of things here, goes on to remark that there is no reason for alarm just yet. A day or two before it had declared the Fenian movement in the States to be a “puzzle.” A week previous it was one of the grandest movements for the overthrow of monarchical tyranny that the world had ever seen. In the interval, however, the various State elections had terminated, the Irish vote was no longer worth cultivating, and so the Democratic press was at liberty to return to reason, and drop the Fenians in the dirt where they found them.
The question of Confederation between the Provinces has had fresh interest imparted to it by the result of a recent election in New Brunswick, by which the growing feeling in favour of union has been mistakably expressed. In the county of York, the Government candidate has been defeated, by a large majority, by the same candidate who was thrown out at the general election last winter as one of the most prominent advocates of confederation. It will be remembered that it was by the action of New Brunswick on this former occasion that the adoption of the Quebec scheme was delayed. The people had not then had time to consider the matter; and the project being put before them by a Government which had been in office for nine years, without discussion in the Legislature, and without adequate ventilation in any way whatever, it was not unnatural that a feeling of alarm should be awakened sufficiently general to result in the defeat of the Government and the rejection of the scheme on which its existence was virtually staked. Mr. Tilley and all the members of his Government were thus unseated, although the numerical preponderance of votes throughout the whole Province amounted to only a few hundreds. This adverse decision on the part of New Brunswick is now apparently in course of being reversed. Even the opponents of Confederation have not been willing to accept the position of opponents out-and-out, though there is a certain Irish element supporting the Government, plainly enough from a desire to oppose any policy that might tend to confirm and consolidate British connection. In this respect, it is proper to remark that New Brunswick has stood alone, the Catholics, both Irish and French, in all other provinces having given their support to the project of union. With the exception referred to, the opponents of Confederation here desired it to be understood that it was something in the Quebec scheme, and not the idea of union itself, that they were opposed to. But, unfortunately for their case, they have never been able to specify the particular points on which they consider the Quebec draft ought to be altered. When the first outcry was raised, it evidently expressed nothing but a vague feeling of alarm lest New Brunswick should be taken advantage of in the dark. Since then the question of Confederation has been the all-absorbing topic of discussion in the province, and of course a great change has taken place, notwithstanding that party interests and feelings have been so much involved. Even of those in office there are some who have not been backward to declare publicly that they believe there must be a union before long; but when invited by members of the Canadian Government to sit down with them and discuss the terms of an equitable arrangement, they have persistently met such suggestions with sullen silence. It is supposed, however, that they will not continue to do so much longer, and there is even a feeling of alarm on the opposite side lest they should become of a practical temper in the matter. They may accept, and it is to be hoped they will accept, in a statesmanlike spirit the reverse of its former decision renounced the other day by the constituency of York, a reversal indicating the state of public opinion throughout the province as correctly, now that it is enlightened, as the previous decision represented the public mind when it was in a state of darkness at the time of the general election. Looking to the probability of this, Mr Fisher, the returned candidate, who was Attorney-General of the late Government, declares that the question of Confederation should not now be settled without a general election That is a point of interest only for the politicians of the province. Elsewhere it is all-important to know that New Brunswick is not likely to be the dog in the manger much longer, though other people may perhaps deserve the oats and the credit better than those who have hitherto stood in the way.
Whenever New Brunswick comes in, the British American Union will be an accomplished fact, although all the farmers may not be members of it from the first. To make a beginning, all that is required is the concurrence of Upper and Lower Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. In both divisions of Canada public opinion may be said to be unanimous in favour of Confederation. If there has not been much discussion about it, the reason is that there is no opposition worth speaking of. The existing Government is a coalition of the various political parties formed expressly for the purpose of carrying out this policy of union. A few malcontents, who grumble because they do not participate in the existing political encouragement, cannot be said to form an opposition. In Nova Scotia, the present Government is in favour of the Quebec scheme, and it commands a majority in the Legislature of 2 to 1. It has not yet submitted the question to Parliament. There can be no doubt that the popular impression in that province, as in New Brunswick, has been adverse, even though leading members of the Opposition took part in framing the Quebec scheme. Looking at the course that had been taken in the neighbouring province, the Government of Nova Scotia have judiciously postponed raising the question until the public mind has had time to become familiar with the true bearings of the project, to which in reality there are no intelligible objections. To all disinterested judges it appears that the lower provinces have the best of the bargain, and in many respects would be the chief gainers from an intimate union with Canada. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia suffer more from the present system of isolation and hostile tariffs than Canada does. With a population of three millions, Canada has within itself a market large enough for the development of a considerable variety of industries; but the maritime provinces, with a much greater variety of natural resources, are restricted in their application by the wants of a home population numbering only 250,000 or 300,000 respectively. Then, Canada has its own sugar refineries; but the other provinces, notwithstanding their more direct trade with the West Indies and Brazil, have not had a sufficient market within themselves to encourage a single establishment for refining the sugar which their vessels carry away in exchange for lumber and fish. This is only one of a hundred illustrations that might be mentioned. There is scarcely a branch of enterprise in which the smaller provinces would not be the chief gainers alliance with a larger population. But the smal[?] the province the more intense seems the love[?] isolation. Thus Prince Edward Island, with [?] population of about ninety thousand, is alm[?] unanimous in its determination to remain as it [?] Politicians representing opposite parties in t[?] island took part in the Quebec conference, a [?] concurred in the scheme that was adopted; [?] when they returned home they found the prejud[?] against union so strong that they deemed it adv[?] able to bend at once to the will of their cons[?] tuents. The subject has not recently been m[?] discussed, and the islanders will no doubt [?] allowed to choose their own time for adopting t[?] same tariff and currency, the same general law[?] and a common purse with the neighbours by wha[?] they are surrounded, and to whom they are nat[?] rally related pretty much in the same way as the Isle of Man to England, Scotland, a[?] Ireland. Newfoundland is naturally more ap[?] from the other provinces, and in anticipation of [?] not entering at once into the present moveme[?] special provision is made in the Quebec scheme f[?] its coming into the union at some future time, if [?] does not do so at first. Newfoundland is pretty much [?]fishing station, where a class of traders m[?] money by the truck system, and do not regard [?] place as other than a temporary home. The[?] chief markets are the Brazils, the West Indies [?] and the Mediterranean, and they get their suppl[?] where they can be had cheapest. They can hard[?] be expected to feel anything like national [?] political interest in the proposed union, whi[?] would of course tend to destroy that isolati[?] which their trading interests and the nature [?] their relations to the poor fishermen, or “planter[?] as they are called, render desirable. The pries[?] and the merchants are tolerably harmonious[?] their management of the population. Neverth[?] less, it is not improbable that Newfoundland m[?] join the union when once it is decided on; but [?] will be from deference to Imperial policy rath[?] than from sympathy with a British America[?] movement.
Mr George Brown, President of the Council [?] this province, and who has had a leading part [?] introducing the policy of Confederation, is [?] present on a visit to New Brunswick. His busine[?] is said to be connected with the Treaty [?] Reciprocity. I believe it has more to do with th[?] scheme of provincial union, which becomes m[?] and more a necessity as the prospect of renew[?] the Treaty of Reciprocity becomes fainter. So litt[?] hope is now entertained of the treaty with the Stat[?] being renewed that people in the provinces are begin[?] Ning seriously to consider where their future marke[?] are to be. The chief compensation for the loss [?] trade with the States will be in an increase of tra[?] between the provinces. At present Nova Scoti[?] New Brunswick, and Newfoundland get the[?] breadstuffs almost exclusive from the States, a[?] British American shoes, chiefly from New Englan[?] The loss of reciprocity, and the adoption of Co[?] federation, means that the Maritime provinces w[?] exchange their products direct for Canadian brea[?] stuffs in place of the business being transacted, [?] hitherto, through the medium of New Englan[?] and New York. If the Washington Governmen[?] desire it on equal terms, the Reciprocity Treaty m[?] be renewed; but it is not regarded as by a[?] means essential to their prosperity by the people [?] Canada.