Canada, House of Commons Debates, “British Columbia Debate”, 1st Parl, 4th Sess (29 March 1871)
By: Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Canada, House of Commons Debates, 1st Parl, 4th Sess, 1871 at 287, 290-295.
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HOUSE OF COMMONS
Wednesday, March 29, 1871
THE BRITISH COLUMBIA DEBATE
Hon. Sir GEORGE-É. CARTIER said the debate on the British Columbia resolutions would be resumed after recess this evening.
THE BRITISH COLUMBIA DEBATE
Hon. Sir GEORGE-É. CARTIER moved the resumption of the adjourned debate on the proposed motion that the Speaker do leave the chair, for the House to go into committee of the whole to consider certain resolutions respecting the admission of British Columbia into union with Canada, and the motion of Mr. Mackenzie in amendment thereto.
Hon. Mr. GRAY resumed the debate. He said that it mattered little how this House might regard the measure unless they were backed up by public opinion, and that opinion was greatly affected by statements made in this House. The measure should be viewed by the light of the ledger, in the practical light of the present day, rather than in the light of the past. This House should regard it too, in the light of the experience of the neighboring Republic, and see how we might profit by it. As had been observed by the hon. member for Sherbrooke, there were two precautions to be taken. The constitution was in no way to be infringed and the Dominion was not to incur a financial burden too heavy to be borne. In this view, he believed every member in the House concurred. And first, with regard to the objection urged against the representation of British Columbia that it was too large, he would say that the British North America Act did not limit representation to the white population but even if it were so limited, the number of representatives under the circumstances of that Colony was not too great. When the Manitoba Act was passed last session exception was taken in the debate to the representation given to the new Province, but the reply was that the expected increase in the population would, within a very short period, be proportionate
to the representation. This view was not disputed by the hon. member for East Toronto, or by his hon. friend from Bothwell.
Mr. MILLS: I did dispute it.
Hon. Mr. GRAY would quote from the hon. member’s own speech to show that he had not objected to it.
Mr. MILLS said he would not accept any report made last year as a correct one.
Hon. Mr. GRAY would quote from the Globe report, which the hon. member would hardly object to. The passage of the hon. member’s speech referred to, contained the following: ‘‘The representation was based no doubt, on the expectation of an immediate increase of the inhabitants, but he contended that it would be better to give representation to the number of people, increasing the number if it was thought best, every two years, or leaving to the local legislature if they thought it better.’’ Here was the expression of opinion from the hon. member, and thus, though the point was raised, there was no record on the journals of the House, no action taken, no resolution or amendment moved to show that the representation of Manitoba was unconstitutional. The objection that was taken in debate last session by the hon. gentleman was as to the power of the Parliament to give representation at all—not as to its numerical character.
Here then was a precedent for this case before the House—a precedent established by the House itself. He had no fear that the smaller Provinces would be overridden through this Act. If the representation were to be based strictly upon population according to the law as at present interpreted by the hon. member for Bothwell, British Columbia would have but one representative, if any. Now, in that colony there were two separate and distinct interests, the insular and continental. The country was divided into two sections, Vancouver Island and the main land. If the colony were permitted to send but one member to this House, which section would he represent? He could not represent both very well, and one of them would remain unrepresented. It was clear, therefore, that no other course could have been adopted with reference to this point, than that embodied in the measure before the House. The position he took with reference to this question was this, that until the Province became a member of the Federal compact, it would not be governed by the provisions of the British North America Act. That the terms and conditions on which British Columbia came in were to be agreed on, and if it as an independent province she chose to say her interests required our representatives in the House, she could, and there was nothing in the British North America Act to prevent our acceptance of such a proposition, but after she came in, her future representation must be governed by the 31st section of the British North America Act, and must revolve like that of the other Province, around the representation of Quebec as a pivot. In accepting her therefore, as set forth in the resolutions in that respect there was no infringement of our Constitutional rights under the British North America Act, and thus the first point stated by the member from Sherbrooke was complied with. For it must be assumed that if there were other important constitutional objections they would not have escaped the acumen of the member for Durham West.
The next point was as to our capability to enter upon the contemplated arrangements respecting the Pacific Railway. The necessity, of course of communication with the Pacific was admitted by every hon. member who had spoken on this subject. The Government did not propose to build the railway themselves, but it would be done by companies, and if the land grants should prove nearly as valuable as it was alleged they would, the cry of one hundred millions which was used to create so much alarm would prove to be a mere bugbear. With regard to the part of the line falling in Ontario he was not prepared to speak, but with respect to the other portions he desired to say something. The hon. gentleman here described the mode and means by which the Pacific Railway from Omaha to Sacramento was built, shewing the companies, the land grants, and Government Bond subsidies in aid, describing the character of the country, and the difficulties which met the constructors of the road, the unstable nature of the soil about the Missouri River, the arid character of the American desert, and the Alkali plains, the elevation of the passes of the Rocky Mountains, and of the Sierra Nevada Range, and went on to explain how the Government Bond subsidies were divided, increasing proportionately with the cost of construction of different parts thus preventing the Government aid being entirely used on the easy gradient, and thereby obviating further calls on the Government. The American Government had divided the subsidy, giving one amount for the easy part of the line, and a larger amount for the difficult sections. The whole bond subsidy amounted to fifty-eight millions, and in addition a land grant was made of alternate lots of 20 miles along the route. The cost of the entire road had also been largely increased to the extent of twenty millions by a stipulation that no rails should be used except those of home make,—a limitation which would certainly not be imposed by us—as our rule was to buy in the cheapest market.
Hon. Mr. McDOUGALL (Lanark North) said he supposed steel rails would be used.
Hon. Sir GEORGE-É. CARTIER: The hon. gentleman knows better.
Hon. Mr. GRAY resumed his description of the construction of the American line, and the difficulties met with in that work. He quoted from a speech of the member for Lambton made last session during the Manitoba debate, shewing that the Canadian line would pass through an infinitely better country than that through which the American line had passed.
Mr. MACKENZIE said his words had applied to the portion lying between Red River and the Rocky Mountains.
Hon. Mr. GRAY said he admitted that he had spoken in that limited sense, but that covered 1,400 miles of the distance. As the American line had been built at an expense of sixty millions, what fear need there be as to the cost of the Canadian line, which would pass through an infinitely better country, and the elevation to be attained would be much less. (The hon. gentleman here read extracts of Cheadle & Milton’s work, shewing that whereas the highest elevation of the American line was 7,400 and 8,000 feet above the level of the sea, the Jasper House or Yellow Head Pass through the Rocky Mountains, with us was only 3,760 feet, with a gradual slope on either side; and also showing the nature and character of the country on this side of the Rocky Mountains, and of the valley of the Fraser River on the other.) It had been alleged that the line must necessarily be built within ten years, and that if a company would not undertake it, the Government would be obliged to do it.
Now, the Americans had built their line in three and a half years, and could it be supposed that the Canadians were so inferior that they could not build a line of comparatively easy construction in ten years. And in the light of the experience of that country, how could it be said companies would not be found to build the line. British Columbia possessed every means of becoming one of the most prosperous Provinces in the Dominion, and indeed its union had been one of the stipulations of, and inducements for Confederation. He then spoke of the prosperous condition of the Dominion at present, to show that Canada need have no fear of the responsibility it was proposed to incur, and referred to statistics to prove his position.
The Member for Durham West had based his statements that Canada could not bear the burden to be laid on her, under the impression that the Dominion would have to pay one hundred millions, but that was not the case. There was a vast difference between the burden of a work of that amount—say 100,000,000 borne by various parties—public Companies—land grants and aids of different characters—and the cost of the same work borne by one exchequer. It was not intended that the exchequer or revenues of Canada should bear the charge of the work, but simply that they would aid it. If Canada should refuse to give this aid, the work would pass out of her hands, British Columbia would not be included, and the Dominion, instead of becoming a great and leading power on the continent, and advancing in material wealth and prosperity, would revert to its old position of discontented and opposing Provinces, small and insignificant—the worse for having thrown away the opportunities which had been afforded her.
Mr. JOLY said when he had listened to the discussion, he could not help thinking of the fable of the frog and the ox. The frog had admired the size of the ox, and deciding that it was its duty to become as large as the ox, it went on swelling until it burst, and when he had heard the description and glowing terms of the Minister of Militia, he thought he could see the Dominion swell like the frog. It was very fortunate the Pacific made a boundary to the land to be annexed, although it was true China and Japan were beyond, and perhaps the Pacific might yet be made a Canadian sea. When the Minister of Militia had named fifty-two millions as the cost of the railway, he could only have referred to the cost to the Dominion, and in the same way the population had been much exaggerated.
Hon. Sir GEORGE-É. CARTIER said he had stated the population correctly at 63,000, being 15,000 to 17,000 Europeans, some 5,000 Chinese and the remainder Indians.
Mr. JOLY must, of course, admit his mistake. He could not consider the railway a Canadian but an Imperial Policy, and, of course, it was natural that England should desire to see British North America confederated and independent of the United States, and if that was her desire, the best thing she could do would be to aid in constructing this line of communication. The great advantage Canada possessed over the States was her freedom from debt and taxation, but if, to the present debt of $100,000,000 was added another $100,000,000 for the construction of the railway, the debt of Canada would become in proportion almost as large as that of the United States, and Canada would lose her only advantage. He came to conclusion that an additional debt of $100,000,000 would be mentioned on account of the construction of the railway, from the remarks of the member of the St. John. The Americans had paid fifty-eight millions of dollars as a subsidy, and had made twice as large a land grant; the money grant would have to be larger. For years to come, the line could not pay a tenth part of its cost, and no Company would undertake it unless they received every assistance, for the line would not obtain anything like the traffic that the Union Pacific obtained, and he believed the result would not be that the Government itself would have to build the line. As to the time that would be required to build the line, if the same energy were shown as had been exhibited in the construction of the Intercolonial, the Pacific would take twenty years. Why not say to British Columbia, ‘‘we are willing for you to join us, but we cannot pledge ourselves to this heavy expenditure—but if British Columbia only wanted to see which country, Canada or the States would give them the best terms, he, for one, was not prepared to buy them that way.’’ The present position of Canada and the States to each other could not last much longer, and if more friendly relations should be established, why should not Canada avail herself of the Northern Pacific road until she was able to build a line for herself.
Mr. JACKSON was glad to see the unanimity of belief that union with British Columbia was a necessity, and that the construction of a line of railway was also a necessity. It had been conceded that the amount to be granted to British Columbia was not extravagant, but objection was taken as to the mode of payment. Objection had also been raised that the proposed representation was too large for the population, but looking at the matter in a common sense view only, although the abstract principle of representation according to population might be right, he thought area should enter into the arrangement, and he saw
nothing in the objection. As to the objection of the railway having to be constructed in ten years, British Columbia was to be taken into the Union, and the understanding was that the whole Dominion should be connected. The responsibility might be great, but in all agreements certain conditions were implied, which might operate to change the agreement. If the present prosperity continued, there was no reason to doubt the ability of the Government to construct the railway within ten years, but if circumstances should prevent that, what danger could ensue? He should certainly support the resolutions of the Government on the grounds he had stated.
Some years ago he had entertained doubts of the success of Confederation, but he was very glad to see how satisfactory the results had been. He thought the definitiveness of the proposition for the construction of the line, would obtain for it greater consideration and greater confidence on the part of English capitalists. He would not try to foreshadow the future, but there was every reason for hope. The member for Lotbinière had said that the increased responsibility would make Canada’s debt equal to that of the United States, but the view was most erroneous, for while the Canadian line would open up a splendid country and consolidate the country, the Americans had only destroyed property and desolated homes without result.
Mr. MILLS would not have spoken but for the remarks of the member for St. John. That hon. gentleman entirely misapprehended the system of Government provided by the British North American Act. He disputed his reading of the constitution as affecting powers and duties of Canada in relation to the colonies to be admitted into the Union. He had contended the Indians should be embraced in framing the basis for representation. That had not, however, been done as regards the other Provinces. The Indians did not enter into the social bond, and could not stand on the same footing as the white population. The member for St. John argued that because the principle of representation by population had been violated in the treatment of Manitoba, it should be in the case of British Columbia, and he had stated representation by population was not the principle established by the constitution, but the Union Act plainly showed it was and the representation was to be altered every ten years in harmony with the growth of the country and population, and in a prescribed relation to the sixty-five members always to be possessed by Quebec.
In answer to the member for St. John, he contended that the phraseology of the Union Act proved that the terms applicable to the four Provinces of the Confederation as to representation, applied also to the Provinces after-admitted. The Union could be extended only on the federal principle, and the principle he now contended for governed his objections to the Manitoba Bill last year. He held now as before that the very principle of our constitution was violated in the terms we granted that Province last year, that we had no authority to grant her representation beyond that to which by population she was entitled. So much for the precedent cited by that hon. gentleman. He did not believe British Columbia would complain of our altering terms before us in obedience to our reasonable wishes and interests. If she was prepared to accept reasonable terms he would not oppose her entrance into the Union. If she was not so prepared, it would simply show the time had not come for her admission.
As to the remark that we ought to be able to construct a railroad in less than ten years, and that the Americans constructed theirs in three years and a half, it was apparently forgotten that their railroads previously extended a thousand miles further west than ours, that they had thirty millions this side of the Rocky Mountains against our four, and had a large population on the Pacific coast and infinitely greater resources on both sides of the Rocky Mountains than ours. He would like to know how we could build it in ten years when at the present rate of progress, and with our adequate means and other advantages that Intercolonial would require seven years. At its rate of construction, it would take 37 years to build the Pacific Road. He was convinced we should not draw so largely upon the future, should not incur obligations we had not certainty of being able to meet. On this ground alone, were there no other objections to the resolutions, he would be disposed to oppose them. The geological survey of the country was an incident of the local possession and management of the lands, and it should be undertaken by the local authorities alone.
We had no power to enter upon this work, the proposal of which was another instance of irregular or illegal Acts we were asked to perform. He would oppose the resolutions and support the very proper amendment before the House.
Hon. Mr. LANGEVIN then proceeded to explain in French the proposals and policy of the Government on this subject, and to recite the circumstances that led to the submission of this scheme, dating back to the period of Confederation. He reminded the House that these terms had been accepted by the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia on the understanding that they would not be altered by the Parliament of Canada. In reply to the hon. member for Sherbrooke and other gentlemen, he contended that the present terms were not less favourable to Canada than the former, because in the first instance the colony was to have four senators at Ottawa and eight Commoners, while now she was allowed but three of the former and six of the latter. With regard to the railway, he urged that there was no comparison between the Intercolonial and the Pacific road, because it would not be undertaken by the Government but by a company upon the basis of a liberal land grant and an annual payment of money within the means of Canada, and without augmenting its debt.
Mr. GEOFFRION: Suppose you don’t find a company?
Hon. Mr. LANGEVIN: Who could doubt their finding a company with the double inducement of land and money, when in the States and other countries railways were begun and completed on the basis of land grants only? We were bound, irrespective of British Columbia, to construct a railway to the Rocky Mountains, certainly through a magnificent country for hundred of miles; but what would be the use of stopping there? Would it not be to a certain extent money ill- spent, when the road stopped short of the natural boundary of the Dominion, of the natural ocean outlet on the Pacific? Our interests undoubtedly dictated that prolongation. He maintained that in a revenue point of view Canada would not lose by this measure, for, as he had pointed out, the consumption of dutiable goods per head of the population was much greater that in Canada. There was already a population of 60,000, including Chinese and Indians, many of whom were civilized and useful inhabitants. He denied the statement of the member for Lotbinière that we already owed $100,000,000, our debt being but $80,000,000, and as the Government intended having the railway built by a private company they would incur nothing like another hundred millions of debt.
As to the pension list, several of the recipients could be made useful to the Dominion as public officers. It was absurd to suppose Canada could depend on the American Northern Pacific Railway, and if we wished to extend our population and trade and colonize our vast Western region, we must possess a railroad through our own territory, instead of travelling westward by one 100 or 200 miles from our frontier. It was necessary to satisfy the Columbians, as well as to give confidence to British capitalists, that a period should be fixed for the completion of the road; but if in seven or eight years it should appear with representatives from that Province sitting among us, that despite our good faith and utmost efforts it was impossible to complete the work within the time named they could not and would not find fault with us. He did not anticipate any failure, but looked at the worst contingency. He believed it was our duty and our interest took to complete Confederation and establish a British empire in North America, with the freest institutions in the world, under the British Flag now protecting us, and which would continue to protect us so long as we desired. He believed his countrymen of all origins and classes desired this result, and that trifling difficulties would not induce them to abandon reasonable effort for its attainment. British Columbia did not merit the treatment proposed by the amendment and he hoped the House would not refuse to adopt cheerfully the resolutions of the Government. (Cheers.)
Hon. Mr. SMITH (Westmorland) thought the subject was one of the greatest magnitude, and Government ought to have absolved all parties to allow every one to give the matter the freest possible consideration. He had at first done his best to oppose Confederation but he was now friendly to the Union, and would be glad to see the whole of British North America united. There were two very important considerations—one was that there was a great departure from the principles of the constitution in the matter of the representation. With regard to the financial aspect, however, he could not but believe that lasting injury would be done to the country by the expenditure to be incurred. The cost of the railway could not be less than $100,000,000, and it was equivalent to the Imperial Government asking England to embark in an enterprise involving a thousand millions. Was not the matter, therefore, sufficiently grave to merit the most serious consideration—and he entreated the Government to pause. The faith of the country was pledged by the resolution to complete the railway within ten years, no matter if the result should be ruin. No verbal reservations could have effect, the written record alone could hold, and the words of the resolution were clear, and if in two years the railway was not commenced, British Columbia could appeal to the Imperial Government. They had been told that the expenditure would not burden the people, but could that be believed, and no one would undertake to say that a Company would undertake the work as a remunerative scheme, and therefore sooner or later, the Government would have to pay every dollar of the expense, and the contractors would want the land as a profit. No one could suppose that even after the road was built, it would pay one tenth of its working expenses, and how, therefore, could British capitalists be expected to undertake the work.
The Minister of Customs had intimated that if they did not strike quickly, they would alienate British Columbia from the enterprise, but was that an element for discussion; no, if such were the case, the matter belonged to the Imperial Government only. Was the House ready to involve the country in so large an increase of debt? That debt was already $100,000,000 and there were many burdens that would arise from the Intercolonial and other works. The Union Act had provided for the extension of the Canal system and that had only been delayed because of the deficient state of the finances of the Dominion. The cost of the railway could not be named, it might be much greater than the amount named and yet coûte que coûte the country would stand pledged to complete it. He should oppose the measure because it would impose burdens on the people that they were not able to bear and would involve the country in ruin and disaster.
Mr. RYMAL like the previous speaker, had not much faith in the blessings of Confederation, and should oppose the present measure, because he believed it violated their constitutional rights. In the Confederation scheme the principle of representation by population had been conceded, and yet that principle was now being violated. The Minister of Militia himself represented many times the whole number of white men in British Columbia, and there were many similar cases in the House, and the thing was so absurd and unjust that if it were the only objection, he would oppose the scheme for while he asked nothing more than justice, he would take nothing less.
As to the financial aspect the responsibilities about being incurred, added to the cost of Intercolonial and the enlargement of the canals, a debt of $300,000,000, would be incurred, which at five per cent would involve an annual expenditure of $15,000,000. Added to this there would be the yearly and ever increasing burden of maintaining the railway, all of which would fall on the poor tax payers. To use a well known phrase, he would say ‘‘whither are we drifting,’’ and the only answer was that bankruptcy and ruin stared them in the face, and the credit and good reputation of Canada would be a thing of the past. The Minister of Finance had well nigh ruined the country before, and he would do so again, if the present Ministry retained their seats, and were led on by the Minister of Finance. Language failed him to express his detestation of the Government that thus prejudiced the good interest of the country, and it appeared to him that the prospects of the Confederation were being destroyed.
Hon. Mr. DUNKIN said the question proposed was the adoption of resolutions for the admission of British Columbia into the Union, and the objection raised in the amendment was a very narrow one. No sufficient reason was given for the postponement proposed, which was in effect the adjournment of the whole scheme. He referred to the circumstances connected with Confederation, and the feelings with which it was regarded at first, and after its accomplishment. The experiment was tried, one of its express objects being to bring in the British North West Territory, and construct a Railroad from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and were they now to hesitate, letting I dare not wait upon I would. He argued that British Columbia and the North West could not be retained without a railway. They had already incurred the greater part of the expenditure, independent of British Columbia, and they must advance; they could not recede. Without executing the policy these Resolutions embodies we should expose ourselves, our present constitution and national position. Not to advance was to go back the whole distance. He argued that the road could be built to the Pacific at a cheaper rate than one to the Rocky Mountains only, and possibly for a smaller amount than to this point.
Mr. BODWELL rose to speak, but was interrupted by cries of ‘‘adjourn.’’
After a short discussion the debate was adjourned, to be resumed tomorrow after recess.
The House rose at 12.50 o’clock.