Canada, House of Commons Debates, “British Columbia”, 1st Parl, 4th Sess (1 April 1871)
By: Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Canada, House of Commons Debates, 1st Parl, 4th Sess, 1871 at 315-318.
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HOUSE OF COMMONS
Saturday, April, 1871
Hon. Sir GEORGE-É. CARTIER moved the second reading of the Address to Her Majesty for the union of British Columbia with the Dominion.
Mr. MACKENZIE did not propose to reply to the speeches of the hon. members opposite delivered last night. They extended over a good space of time, but there was nothing in them. He merely wished to enter his protest against the extraordinary address now about to be read a second time. He, therefore, moved the following:
“Resolved that this House, while willing to give its best consideration to any reasonable terms of union with British Columbia, is of opinion that the terms embodied in the said address are so unreasonable, and so unjust to Canada, that this House should not agree thereto.”
Hon. Mr. TUPPER said he had not taken any part in the debates on this subject so far. He had listened with mingled pain and pleasure to the speeches of hon. members. He had heard with pain old friends of Confederation opposing this union movement. He defended the policy of the Government at considerable length, arguing that everything conspired to favor the construction of the Pacific Railway. While the United States had to contend against great natural difficulties in pushing their railways to the Pacific, the territory through which the Canadian route would lie, was of great natural fertility, and presented comparatively few engineering difficulties to the construction of a railway. It gave us a pass through the Rocky Mountains 2,000 feet lower than the best pass through that chain on American territory. The hon. member for Lambton had endeavored to show that the route from Nipissing to Fort Garry was an almost impassable wilderness. Only last session the hon. member had taken a very different view of the question and had stated that the very best route to the west lay through Canadian territory North of Lakes Huron and Superior. The hon. gentleman could not say that he had heard anything to present the matter in a different light. There were then, all these favourable circumstances to aid this great enterprise, but in addition to all that, the route once opened would place Canton and Liverpool 1,000 miles nearer than by any other line of communication that could be found. The hon. member had pleaded for delay in order to submit this question to the people, but the hon. gentleman had taken the ground on a former occasion that Parliament, representing the people, could act for them in a case like this.
Mr. MACKENZIE said this was a very different matter. When the Confederation scheme was first mooted he (Mr. Mackenzie) went before his constituents and presented the matter to them in twenty speeches held in different parts of his constituency and told them that if they were not favourable to Confederation they might elect some one who would oppose it in Parliament, he would not.
Hon. Mr. TUPPER admitted that the honourable member for Lambton was an important member of the House, and honoured the intelligent electors who sent him to Parliament, but he did not represent the whole people, and the Confederation scheme was not submitted to the country generally. But this question had been submitted to the people of British Columbia and the terms had been accepted by them. It was not new to the people of Canada. Six months ago the Toronto Globe had published the terms and they
had appeared in other leading papers. No objections were urged against them that he had heard of, till now. He did not believe the people were so wanting in intelligence that they would silently submit to terms which did not meet their approval without protesting against them. When a small question of duties came before this Parliament, the people who disapproved of them petitioned against them, and the Press generally discussed the question very thoroughly. It was absurd, therefore, in the face of these facts to say that the people were taken by surprise on this question, or that the scheme met with their disapproval. But if this House had accepted the position which the hon. members of the opposition wished to force the country into, they would bring discredit on this country which would probably be fraught with consequences which might be irreparable.
The hon. member for Sherbrooke had raised a question as to how far this enterprise lay within our means. The hon. member had done better justice to the position of the Dominion in a former speech in which he had depicted the prosperity which Confederation had brought upon the country. It showed that the hon. member who first presented Confederation in a tangible shape, in the year 1858, had spoken with prophetic zeal when he referred to it as the great means of elevating them, not only in the political, but in the financial and commercial scale. The friends of Union might proudly point to the present position of the Dominion as irrefragable proof of the correctness of that statement for the prophecy had been more than realized. The Confederation was but a movement of yesterday, and the result already was a large surplus in the treasury after meeting all the Dominion engagements that the necessities of the Local Governments required, but the Government of this Dominion could come down, and not only point to the prosperity of every one of its component parts, but, at the same time, show that this Dominion had entered on a career of financial prosperity hitherto unknown to Canada. If this had been the result in the past, what might we not expect in the future? Two years ago the hon. member for Sherbrooke, in his criticism on the budget speech, had complained of what was not in it, rather than of what it did contain, and had said that some provision should have been made for opening up the North West. He (Hon. Mr. Tupper) thought the Government deserved credit rather than censure for having adopted the suggestion.
In reply to the objections of the hon. member for Lambton about the cost of the proposed railway, he referred to the fact that its construction would be undertaken by a private company. No one had disputed the necessity of providing means of communication with the North West in order to settle it, yet hon. gentlemen opposite complained that large grants of land should be made to any company undertaking the construction of a railway. Yet it was only by means of a railway that the country could ever be settled, and the Dominion could give infinitely better land for the purpose than the United States had offered or could now offer to American companies. The reservation of large blocks of lands, which would be greatly enhanced in value through the construction of this railway, would enable the Government to cover largely any outlay they should be called on to make. Confederation had changed the whole story of financial deficit, and had enabled the Government the other day, partly without their consent, to reduce the taxation of the country by $1,000,000—thus, too, at a time when they were constructing the Intercolonial and other kindred works and preparing to improve the canal system of the country—without embarrassing the Government. He believed, also, that if this railway were built, the Northern Pacific road would either be abandoned or become a branch of the Canadian Pacific. It could never compete with our line, running as it did through a much less fertile country than our North West, and lying between our line and the Central Pacific route.
This union was a question of such magnitude, when regarded in the ligtht of the status it was going to give to this Dominion that it naturally tempted him to descant upon it. He believed God and nature had placed it in the power of this Parliament to take up this question and give us advantages in connection with becoming the great highway of communication, not only across this continent, but between Europe and Asia. The Government would be recreant to their trust if they failed to meet the wishes of this country as expressed by the majority in this Parliament and carry it forward to a successful issue.
Mr. SCATCHERD was surprised to find that in the debate on the present question there was less enthusiasm than was shown on the first scheme of Confederation. He complained that only one party to this compact, the people of British Columbia had had an opportunity of pronouncing on this subject, while the greater party of the people of Canada had received no such opportunity. Already we had the Intercolonial Railway on our hands, for which we had had to submit to increased expenditure and taxation. Yet we were told that a larger and more difficult work would not add to our burdens. A more monstrous and unreasonable proposition was never urged than this vast road could be built without increasing the burdens of the people. He held that Confederation so far had not proved the success predicted. In various sections there were jealousy, ill-feeling and discontent in relation to this Union and three sections, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Manitoba might be cited in support of his theory that Confederation had not been very satisfactory. He saw no difference between the position of the minority in 1865, and that of the minority now. The conduct of the Government was as unreasonable and arbitrary now as then. He believed this scheme would but add to difficulties and taxation on the country, and that its ill effects would be felt for 50 years. Holding these opinions he would vote for the amendment.
Hon. Mr. HUNTINGTON said he was prepared and desirous to see this scheme of Confederation carried to a magnificent success, and that he was prepared to go quite as far as the hon. member for Cumberland, or indeed any one, in the great scheme of Confederation, but while he claimed credit for earnestly and sincerely entertaining the desire to consummate successfully that great scheme, he could not shut his eyes to the fact that, Confederation was not a machine that would run without winding, but that it contained many details which from time to time required serious consideration. When the Dominion Parliament had first
assembled, the obligations of the country had been largely increased, and now all at once the whole debt of the country was to be doubled. Surely this was a serious matter, and even the Hon. Minister of Militia had termed it a ‘‘big job’’ though he had afterwards tried to make it a very little job. It was useless to say that the country would not be expected to accomplish impossibilities, and that no burden would be added to the people, for when they had entered into a compact, they must carry out their promise, and when they went to England to raise money they would find this obligation considered a charge on the credit of the country. Notwithstanding the glowing terms in which the grandeur of Confederation had been depicted, the fact still remained that the debt had first been increased fifty per cent and now it was sought to be doubled.
He maintained, however, that the measure of Confederation had been carried, not by the Government but in consequence of the loyal respect of the people for the policy of the Imperial Government which was known to favor the scheme, and now the Government was breaking away if not from Imperial policy at least from Imperial aid, in proposing to carry out the work of communication alone and unassisted. If it had been the duty and the policy of the Imperial Government to aid the construction of the Intercolonial Railway it was a hundred fold their duty and policy to aid the construction of the Pacific, and he would ask the Government for what reasons they had absolved the Imperial Government from all duties in the work of consolidating British power on this continent. He referred to rumours which he said had been greatly influenced by the presence of Capitalists and Contractors who were opposed to the Northern Pacific Railway, and who thought that if the Canadian Government would decide definitely to construct the Canadian line, it would operate strongly against the Northern Pacific, and said he could not but think that those rumours had gained weight by the utterance of the President of the Council that if the Canadian line was constructed the Northern Pacific would never get beyond Red River. That hon. gentleman had also urged as a reason for hurry in this matter, that if they did not hasten to accept the terms proposed, British Columbia might exact conditions still more difficult, but such an argument was absurd.
British Columbia was a Crown colony, and if it were really, the policy of the Imperial Government, to consolidate British power on this continent, though every man in that colony might be in favor of annexation, their power to bring about such a result would be as light as a feather, it would be as nothing. If ever the British possessions on this Continent should become part of the United States, it could only be at the cannon’s mouth, and as the consequence of the total ruin and prostration of British power on this continent. The same reason for hurry had been urged in the discussion on Confederation, and he very much deprecated it as tending very much to unsettle the minds of the people.
These great questions should be discussed solely on their merits without the fulmination of insincerities in regard to alternatives that might ensue in case of the scheme being rejected. He had no doubt that many, hon. gentleman, had been writing to their constituents speaking of the wonderful benefits of Confederation as evinced in their being no longer a deficiency in the revenue, but a surplus of two millions, and he could not but commiserate them in having now to write that that surplus of two millions had disappeared to be replaced by a debt of one hundred millions.
Mr. RYMAL had hoped that the Government would have been forced to explain in what way the money for the railway was to be raised. He ventured to say that the Minister of Finance was not properly performing the functions of his office, in failing to explain fully the financial aspect of the matter. He feared nothing he could say would change one single vote, but he was convinced that if the question had been one of policy and not of party, the resolutions would never have been carried. Richelieu had said that many persons who, as private members might be saved, were in great danger of being damned for having wandered into public life, and if Richelieu had lived in these days and uttered those words, he (Mr. Rymal) would have been quite sure that his eyes were fixed on the gentlemen of the Canadian Government.
Mr. THOMPSON (Ontario North) desired to explain why he should support the amendment, which was because no explanation had even been attempted as to how so large a debt as that proposed could be incurred without crippling most seriously the resources of the country.
Mr. MACKENZIE’S amendment was then put with the following result: Yeas, 68; Nays, 86.
On the amendment being declared lost,
Hon. Sir A.T. GALT rose and said, it might be considered that the address was practically carried, but he desired before the final passage, to place on record an explanation of the terms under which the address was understood to be adopted. The Government had stated as a reason why these terms should be accepted, that it was not their intention to undertake the whole cost of the railway out of the money reserves of the Dominion, but that they proposed to do it through the intervention of companies to whom they would be prepared to give subsidies of land and money, and further that this was the understanding between themselves and the delegates from British Columbia. He therefore moved: That the word ‘‘now’’ be left out, and the words ‘‘on Monday next, and that meantime it be Resolved, That in accepting the terms of Union with British Columbia, this House understands that the engagement for the construction of the Pacific Railroad within ten years is subject to the understanding had between the Government of the Dominion and the Commissioners from British Columbia that the said Railroad should be constructed through the medium of private Companies, receiving subsidies in money and land, and that it was not intended to pledge the Dominion beyond the application of its money and resources to the loyal and earnest prosecution of the work, without entailling undue and excessive burdens upon the people.’’
Hon. Sir GEORGE-É. CARTIER said this amendment was equally objectionable with the others that had been moved to prevent to passing of the address, and he would announce to the House, and to the hon. member for Sherbrooke, that the Government intended and determined that this great railway should be carried out by companies and not by the Government, and through the means principally of land grant and small money subsidies, and further that early in the ensuing week, the Government would place before the House a resolution by which to take the sense of the House with regard to the manner in which that Railway should be built, and he might announce beforehand that the determination of the Government was that, when the sense of the House had been so taken, they would carry it out more prudently with regard to the Exchequer of the country than was proposed in the amendment of the hon. member for Sherbrooke.
Mr. MACKENZIE said that the terms of the amendment were so general that he was not prepared to vote for it.
Mr. BLAKE said he must oppose the amendment not only for the reason named by the hon. member for Lambton, but because he considered that no action could put an interpretation on the terms other than that they literally contained.
Mr. BOWELL said his great objection to the amendment was that it did not go far enough for it would not prevent the Government from carrying on the Railway after its construction.
The amendment was lost, the vote being—Yeas, 7; Nays, 126.
The main motion was then carried and the address read a second time, and on the motion of Hon. Sir GEORGE-É. CARTIER the address was ordered to be engrossed, and a motion for an address to His Excellency, praying His Excellency to transmit the address to Her Majesty the Queen was carried; the address to His Excellency was ordered to be engrossed, and to be presented by such members of the House as belonged to the Privy Council.
It being six o’clock the House rose.