Province of Canada, Legislative Assembly, Parliamentary Debates on the Subject of the Confederation of the British North America Provinces, 8th Parl, 3rd Sess, (6 February 1865)
By: Province of Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Province of Canada, Parliament, Parliamentary Debates on the Subject of the Confederation of the British North America Provinces, 8th Parl, 3rd Sess, 1865 at 25-45.
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MONDAY, February 6, 1865.
John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West] moved,
“That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She may be graciously pleased to cause a measure to be submitted to the Imperial Parliament, for the purpose of uniting the Colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island, in one Government, with provisions based on certain Resolutions, which were adopted at a Conference of Delegates from the said Colonies, held at the city of Quebec, on the 10th October, 1864.”
He said:—Mr. Speaker, in fulfilment of the promise made by the Government to Parliament at its last session, I have moved this resolution. I have had the honor of being charged, on behalf of the Government, to submit a scheme for the Confederation of all the British North American Provinces—a scheme which has been received. I am glad to say, with general, if not universal, approbation in Canada. The scheme, as propounded through the press, has received almost no opposition. While there may be occasionally, here and there, expressions of dissent from some of the details, yet the scheme as a whole has met with almost universal approval, and the Government has the greatest satisfaction in presenting it to this House.
This subject, which now absorbs the attention of the people of Canada, and of the whole of British North America, is not a new one. For years it has more or less attracted the attention of every statesman and politician in these provinces, and has been looked upon by many far-seeing politicians as being eventually the means of deciding and settling very many of the vexed questions which have retarded the prosperity of the colonies as a whole, and particularly the prosperity of Canada. The subject was pressed upon the public attention by a great many writers and politicians; but I believe the attention of the Legislature was first formally called to it by my honorable friend the Minister of Finance [Alexander T. Galt].
Some years ago, in an elaborate speech, my hon. friend, while an independent member of Parliament, before being connected with any Government, pressed his views on the Legislature at great length and with his usual force. But the subject was not taken up by any party as a branch of their policy, until the formation of the Cartier-Macdonald Administration in 1858, when the Confederation of the colonies was announced as one of the measures which they pledged themselves to attempt, if possible, to bring to a satisfactory conclusion. In pursuance of that promise, the letter or despatch, which has been so much and so freely commented upon in the press and in this House, was addressed by three of the members of that Administration to the Colonial Office. The […]
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[…] subject, however, though looked upon with favor by the country, and though there were no distinct expressions of opposition to it from any party, did not begin to assume its present proportions until last session. Then, men of all parties and all shades of politics became alarmed at the aspect of affairs. They found that such was the opposition between the two sections of the province, such was the danger of impending anarchy, in consequence of the irreconcilable differences of opinion, with respect to representation by population, between Upper and Lower Canada, that unless some solution of the difficulty was arrived at, we would suffer under a succession of weak governments,—weak in numerical support, weak in force, and weak in power of doing good. All were alarmed at this state of affairs.
We had election after election,—we had ministry after ministry,—with the same result. Parties were so equally balanced, that the vote of one member might decide the fate of the Administration, and the course of legislation for a year or a series of years. This condition of things was well calculated to arouse the earnest consideration of every lover of his country, and I am happy to say it had that effect. None were more impressed by this momentous state of affairs, and the grave apprehensions that existed of a state of anarchy destroying our credit, destroying our prosperity, destroying our progress, than were the members of this present House; and the leading statesmen on both sides seemed to have come to the common conclusion, that some step must be taken to relieve the country from the dead-lock and impending anarchy that hung over us.—With that view, my colleague, the President of the Council [George Brown], made a motion founded on the despatch addressed to the Colonial Minister, to which I have referred, and a committee was struck, composed of gentlemen of both sides of the House, of all shades of political opinion, without any reference to whether they were supporters of the Administration of the day or belonged to the Opposition, for the purpose of taking into calm and full deliberation the evils which threatened the future of Canada. That motion of my honorable friend resulted most happily.
The committee, by a wise provision,—and in order that each member of the committee might have an opportunity of expressing his opinions without being in any way compromised before the public, or with his party, in regard either to his political friends or to his political foes,—agreed that the discussion should be freely entered upon without reference to the political antecedents of any of them, and that they should sit with closed doors, so that they might be able to approach the subject frankly and in a spirit of compromise. The committee included most of the leading members of the House,—I had the honor myself to be one of the number,—and the result was that there was found an ardent desire—a creditable desire, I must say,—displayed by all the members of the committee to approach the subject honestly, and to attempt to work out some solution which might relieve Canada from the evils under which she labored. The report of that committee was laid before the House, and then came the political action of the leading men of the two parties in this House, which ended in the formation of the present Government.
The principle upon which that Government was formed has been announced, and is known to all. It was formed for the very purpose of carrying out the object which has now received to a certain degree its completion, by the resolutions I have had the honor to place in your hands. As has been stated, it was not without a great deal of difficulty and reluctance that that Government was formed. The gentlemen who compose this Government had for many years been engaged in political hostilities to such an extent that it affected even their social relations.
But the crisis was great, the danger was imminent, and the gentlemen who now form the present Administration found it to be their duty to lay aside all personal feelings, to sacrifice in some degree their position, and even to run the risk of having their motives impugned, for the sake of arriving at some conclusion that would be satisfactory to the country in general. The present resolutions were the result. And, as I said before, I am proud to believe that the country has sanctioned, as I trust that the representatives of the people in this House will sanction, the scheme which is now submitted for the future government of British North America. (Cheers.)
Everything seemed to favor the project, and everything seemed to show that the present was the time, if ever, when this great union between all Her Majesty’s subjects dwelling in British North America, should be carried out. (Hear, hear.)
When the Government, was formed, it was felt that the difficulties in the way of effecting a union between all the British North American […]
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[…] Colonies were great—so great as almost, in the opinion of many, to make it hopeless. And with that view it was the policy of the Government, if they could not succeed in procuring a union between all the British North American Colonies, to attempt to free the country from the dead-lock in which we were placed in Upper and Lower Canada, in consequence of the difference of opinion between the two sections, by having a severance to a certain extent of the present union between the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, and the substitution of a Federal Union between them. Most of us, however, I may say, all of us, were agreed—and I believe every thinking man will agree—as to the expediency of effecting a union between all the provinces, and the superiority of such a design, if it were only practicable, over the smaller scheme of having a Federal Union between Upper and Lower Canada alone.
By a happy concurrence of events, the time came when that proposition could be made with a hope of success. By a fortunate coincidence the desire for union existed in the Lower Provinces, and a feeling of the necessity of strengthening themselves by collecting together the scattered colonies on the sea-board, had induced them to form a convention of their own for the purpose of effecting a union of the Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, the legislatures of those colonies having formally authorized their respective governments to send a delegation to Prince Edward Island for the purpose of attempting to form a union of some kind. Whether the union should be federal or legislative was not then indicated, but a union of some kind was sought for the purpose of making of themselves one people instead of three.
We, ascertaining that they were about to take such a step, and knowing that if we allowed the occasion to pass, if they did indeed break up all their present political organizations and form a new one, it could not be expected that they would again readily destroy the new organization which they had formed,—the union of the three provinces on the sea-board,—and form another with Canada. Knowing this, we availed ourselves of the opportunity, and asked if they would (receive a deputation from Canada, who would go to meet them at Charlottetown, for the purpose of laying before them the advantages of a larger and more extensive union, by the junction of all the provinces in one great government under our common Sovereign.
They at once kindly consented to receive and hear us. They did receive us cordially and generously, and asked us to lay our views before them. We did so at some length, and so satisfactory to them were the reasons we gave; so clearly, in their opinion, did we show the advantages of the greater union over the lesser, that they at once set aside their own project, and joined heart and hand with us in entering into the larger scheme, and trying to form, as far as they and we could, a great nation and a strong government. (Cheers.)
Encouraged by this arrangement, which, however, was altogether unofficial and unauthorized, we returned to Quebec, and then the Government of Canada invited the several governments of the sister colonies to send a deputation here from each of them for the purpose of considering the question, with something like authority from their respective governments. The result was, that when we met here on the 10th of October, on the first day on which we assembled, after the full and free discussions which had taken place at Charlottetown, the first resolution now before this House was passed unanimously, being received with acclamation as, in the opinion of every one who heard it, a proposition which ought to receive, and would receive, the sanction of each government and each people.
The resolution is, ”That the best interests and present and future prosperity of British North America will be promoted by a Federal Union under the Crown of Great Britain, provided such union can be effected on principles just to the several provinces.” It seemed to all the statesmen assembled—and there are great statesmen in the Lower Provinces, men who would do honor to any government and to any legislature of any free country enjoying representative institutions—it was clear to them all that the best interests and present and future prosperity of British North America would be promoted by a Federal Union under the Crown of Great Britain. And it seems to me, as to them, and I think it will so appear to the people of this country, that, if we wish to be a great people; if we wish to form—using the expression which was sneered at the other evening—a great nationality, commanding the respect of the world, able to hold our own against all opponents, and to defend those institutions we prize: if we wish to have one system of government, and to establish a commercial union, with unrestricted free trade, between people of the five provinces, belonging, as they do, to the same nation, obeying […]
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[…] the same Sovereign, owning the same allegiance, and being, for the most part, of the same blood and lineage: if we wish to be able to afford to each other the means of mutual defence and support against aggression and attack—this can only be obtained by a union of some kind between the scattered and weak boundaries composing the British North American Provinces. (Cheers).
The very mention of the scheme is fitted to bring with it its own approbation. Supposing that in the spring of the year 1865, half a million of people were coming from the United Kingdom to make Canada their home, although they brought only their strong arms and willing hearts; though they brought neither skill nor experience nor wealth, would we not receive them with open arms, and hail their presence in Canada as an important addition to our strength?
But when, by the proposed union, we not only get nearly a million of people to join us—when they contribute not only their numbers, their physical strength, and their desire to benefit their position, but when we know that they consist of old-established communities, having a large amount of realized wealth,—composed of people possessed of skill, education and experience in the ways of the New World—people who are as much Canadians, I may say, as we are—people who are imbued with the same feelings of loyalty to the Queen, and the same desire for the continuance of the connection with the Mother Country as we are, and at the same time, have a like feeling of ardent attachment for this, our common country, for which they and we would alike fight and shed our blood, if necessary. When all this is considered, argument is needless to prove the advantage of such a union. (Hear, hear.)
There were only three modes,—if I may return for a moment to the difficulties with which Canada was surrounded,—only three modes that were at all suggested, by which the dead lock in our affairs, the anarchy we dreaded, and the evils which retarded our prosperity, could be met or averted. One was the dissolution of the union between Upper and Lower Canada, leaving them as they were before the union of 1841. I believe that that proposition, by itself had no supporters. It was felt by every one that, although it was a course that would do away with the sectional difficulties which existed,—though it would remove the pressure on the part of the people of Upper Canada for the representation based upon population,—and the jealousy of the people of Lower Canada lest their institutions should be attacked and prejudiced by that principle in our representation; yet it was felt by every thinking man in the province that it would be a retrograde step, which would throw back the country to nearly the same position as it occupied before the union,—that it would lower the credit enjoyed by United Canada,—that it would be the breaking up of the connection which had existed for nearly a quarter of a century, and, under which, although it had not been completely successful, and had not allayed altogether the local jealousies that had their root in circumstances which arose before the union, our province, as a whole, had nevertheless prospered and increased. It was felt that a dissolution of the union would have destroyed all the credit that we had gained by being a united province, and would have left us two weak and ineffective governments, instead of one powerful and united people. (Hear, hear.)
The next mode suggested, was the granting of representation by population. Now, we all know the manner in which that question was and is regarded by Lower Canada; that while in Upper Canada the desire and cry for it was daily augmenting, the resistance to it in Lower Canada was proportionally increasing in strength.
Still, if some such means of relieving us from the sectional jealousies which existed between the two Canadas, if some such solution of the difficulties as Confederation had not been found, the representation by population must eventually have been carried; no matter though it might have been felt in Lower Canada, as being a breach of the Treaty of Union, no matter how much it might have been felt by the Lower Canadians that it would sacrifice their local interests, it is certain that in the progress of events representation by population would have been carried; and, had it been carried—I speak here my own individual sentiments—I do not think it would have been for the interest of Upper Canada. For though Upper Canada would have felt that it had received what it claimed as a right, and had succeed in establishing its light, yet it would have left the Lower Province with a sullen feeling of injury and injustice. The Lower Canadians would not have worked cheerfully under such a change of system, but would have ceased to be what they are now—a nationality, with representatives […]
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[…] in Parliament, governed by general principles, and dividing according to their political opinions—and would have been in great danger of becoming a faction, forgetful of national obligations, and only actuated by a desire to defend their own sectional interests, their own laws, and their own institutions. (Hear, hear.)
The third and only means of solution for our difficulties was the junction of the provinces either in a Federal or a Legislative Union. Now, as regards the comparative advantages of a Legislative and a Federal Union, I have never hesitated to state my own opinions. I have again and again stated in the House, that, if practicable, I thought a Legislative Union would be preferable. (Hear, hear.) I have always contended that if we could agree to have one government and one parliament, legislating for the whole of these peoples, it would be the best, the cheapest, the most vigorous, and the strongest system of government we could adopt. (Hear, hear.) But, on looking at the subject in the Conference, and discussing the matter as we did, most unreservedly, and with a desire to arrive at a satisfactory contusion, we found that such a system was impracticable.
In the first place, it would not meet the assent of the people of Lower Canada, because they felt that in their peculiar position—being in a minority, with a different language, nationality and religion from the majority,—in case of a junction with the other provinces, their institutions and their laws might be assailed, and their ancestral associations, on which they prided themselves, attacked and prejudiced; it was found that any proposition which involved the absorption of the individuality of Lower Canada—if I may use the expression—would not be received with favor by her people. We found too, that though their people speak the same language and enjoy the same system of law as the people of Upper Canada, a system founded on the common law of England, there was as great a disinclination on the part of the various Maritime Provinces to lose their individuality, as separate political organizations, as we observed in the case of Lower Canada herself. (Hear, hear.)
Therefore, we were forced to the conclusion that we must either abandon the idea of Union altogether, or devise a system of union in which the separate provincial organizations would be in some degree preserved. So that those who were, like myself, in favor of a Legislative Union, were obliged to modify their views and accept the project of a Federal Union as the only scheme practicable, even for the Maritime Provinces. Because, although the law of those provinces is founded on the common law of England, yet every one of them has a large amount of law of its own—colonial law framed by itself, and affecting every relation of life, such as the laws of property, municipal and assessment laws; laws relating to the liberty of the subject, and to all the great interests contemplated in legislation; we found, in short, that the statutory law of the different provinces was so varied and diversified that it was almost impossible to weld them into a Legislative Union at once. Why, sir, if you only consider the innumerable subjects of legislation peculiar to new countries, and that every one of those five colonies had particular laws of its own, to which its people have been accustomed and are attached, you will see the difficulty of effecting and working a Legislative Union, and bringing about an assimilation of the local as well as general laws of the whole of the provinces. (Hear, hear.)
We in Upper Canada understand from the nature and operation of our peculiar municipal law, of which we know the value, the difficulty of framing a general system of legislation on local matters which would meet the wishes and fulfil the requirements of the several provinces. Even the laws considered the least important, respecting private rights in timber, roads, fencing, and innumerable other matters, small in themselves, but in the aggregate of great interest to the agricultural class, who form the great body of the people, are regarded as of great value by the portion of the community affected by them. And when we consider that every one of the colonies has a body of law of this kind, and that it will take years before those laws can be assimilated, it was felt that at first, at all events, any united legislation would be almost impossible. I am happy to state—and indeed it appears on the face of the resolutions themselves—that as regards the Lower Provinces, a great desire was evinced for the final assimilation of our laws. One of the resolutions provides that an attempt shall be made to assimilate the laws of the Maritime Provinces and those of Upper Canada, for the purpose of eventually establishing one body of statutory law, founded on the common law of England, the parent of the laws of all those provinces.
One great objection […]
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[…] made to a Federal Union was the expense of an increased number of legislatures. I will not enter at any length into that subject, because my honorable friends, the Finance Minister [Alexander T. Galt] and the President of the Council [George Brown], who are infinitely more competent than myself to deal with matters of this kind—matters of account—will, I think, be able to show that the expenses under a Federal Union will not be greater than those under the existing system of separate governments and legislatures.
Here, where we have a joint legislature for Upper and Lower Canada, which deals not only with subjects of a general interest common to all Canada, but with all matters of private right and of sectional interest, and with that class of measures known as “private bills,” we find that one of the greatest sources of expense to the country is the cost of legislation. We find, from the admixture of subjects of a general, with those of a private character in legislation, that they mutually interfere with each other; whereas, if the attention of the Legislature was confined to measures of one kind or the other alone, the session of Parliament would not be so protracted and therefore not so expansive as at present.
In the proposed Constitution all matters of general interest are to be dealt with by the General Legislature; while the local legislatures will deal with matters of local interest, which do not affect the Confederation as a whole, but are of the greatest importance to their particular sections. By such a division of labor the sittings of the General Legislature would not be so protracted as even those of Canada alone.
And so with the local legislatures, their attention being confined to subjects to their own sections, their sessions would be shorter and less expensive. Then, when we consider the enormous saving that will be effected in the administration of affairs by one General Government—when we reflect that each of the five colonies have a government of its own with a complete establishment of public departments and all the machinery required for e transaction of the business of the country—that each have a separate executive, judicial and militia system—that each province has a separate ministry, including a Minister of Militia, with a complete Adjutant General’s Department—that each have a Finance Minister with a full Customs and Excise staff—that each Colony has as large and complete an administrative organization, with as many Executive officers as the General Government will have—we can well understand the enormous saving that will result from a union of all the colonies, from their having but one head and one central system We, in Canada, already know something of the advantages and disadvantages of a Federal Union.
Although we have nominally a Legislative Union in Canada—although we sit in one Parliament, supposed constitutionally to represent the people without regard to sections or localities, yet we know, as a matter of fact, that since the union in 1841, we have had a Federal Union; that in matters affecting Upper Canada solely, members from that section claimed and generally exercised the right of exclusive legislation, while members from Lower Canada legislated in matters affecting only their own section.
We have had a Federal Union in fact, though a Legislative Union in name; and in the hot contests of late years, if on any occasion a measure affecting any one section were interfered with by the members from the other—if, for instance, a measure locally affecting Upper Canada were carried or defeated against the wishes of its majority, by one from Lower Canada,—my honorable friend the President of the Council [George Brown], and his friends denounced with all their energy and ability such legislation as an infringement of the rights of the Upper Province. (Hear, hear, and cheers). Just in the same way, if any act concerning Lower Canada were pressed into law against the wishes of the majority of her representatives, by those from Upper Canada, the Lower Canadians would rise as one man and protest against such a violation of their peculiar rights. (Hear, hear.)
The relations between England and Scotland are very similar to that which obtains between the Canadas. The union between them, in matters of legislation, is of a federal character, because the Act of Union between the two countries provides that the Scottish law cannot be altered, except for the manifest advantage of the people of Scotland. This stipulation has been held to be so obligatory on the Legislature of Great Britain, that no measure affecting the law of Scotland is passed unless it receives the sanction of a majority of the Scottish members in Parliament. No matter how important it may be for the interests of the empire as a whole to alter the laws of Scotland—no […]
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[…] matter how much it may interfere with the symmetry of the general law of the United Kingdom, that law is not altered, except with the consent of the Scottish people, as expressed by their representatives in Parliament. (Hear, hear.) Thus, we have, in Great Britain, to a limited extent, an example of the working and effects of a Federal Union, as we might expect to witness them in our own Confederation.
The whole scheme of Confederation, as propounded by the Conference, as agreed to and sanctioned by the Canadian Government, and as now presented for the consideration of the people, and the Legislature, bears upon it face the marks of compromise. Of necessity there must have been a great deal of mutual concession. When we think of the representatives of five colonies, all supposed to have different interests, meeting together, charged with the duty of protecting those interests and of pressing the views of their own localities and sections, it must be admitted that had we not met in a spirit of conciliation, and with an anxious desire to promote this union; if we had not been impressed with the idea contained in the words of the resolution—”That the best interests and present and future prosperity of British North America would be promoted by a Federal Union under the Crown of Great Britain,”—all our efforts might have proved to be of no avail. If we had not felt that, after coming to this conclusion, we were “bound to set aside our private opinions on matters of detail, if we had not felt ourselves bound to look at what was practicable, not obstinately rejecting the opinions of others nor adhering to our own; if, we had not met, I say, in a spirit of conciliation, and with an anxious, overruling desire to form one people under one government, we never would have succeeded. With these views, we press the question on this House and the country.
I say to this House, if you do not believe that the union of the colonies is for the advantage of the country, that the joining of these five peoples into one nation, under one sovereign, is for the benefit of all, then reject the scheme. Reject it if you do not believe it to be for the present advantage and future prosperity of yourselves and your children. But if, after a calm and full consideration of this scheme, it is believed, as a whole, to be for the advantage of this province—if the House and country believe this union to be one which will ensure for us British laws, British connection, and British freedom—and increase and develop the social, political and material prosperity of the country, then I implore this House and the country to lay aside all prejudices, and accept the scheme which we offer. I ask this House to meet the question in the same spirit in which the delegates met it. I ask each member of this House to lay aside his own opinions as to particular details, and to accept the scheme as a whole if he think it beneficial as a whole. As I stated in the preliminary discussion, we must consider this scheme in the light of a treaty.
By a happy coincidence of circumstances, just when an Administration had been formed in Canada for the purpose of attempting a solution of the difficulties under which we laboured, at the same time the Lower Provinces, actuated by a similar feeling, appointed a Conference with a view to a union among themselves, without being cognizant of the position the government was taking in Canada. If it had not been for this fortunate coincidence of events, never, perhaps, for a long series of years would we have been able to bring this scheme to a practical conclusion. But we did succeed. We made the arrangement, agreed upon the scheme, and the deputations from the several governments represented at the Conference went back pledged to lay it before their governments, and to ask the legislatures and people of their respective provinces to assent to it. I trust the scheme will be assented to as a whole.
I am sure this House will not seek to alter it in its unimportant details; and, if altered in any important provisions, the result must be that the whole will be set aside, and we must begin de novo. If any important changes are made, every one of the colonies will feel itself absolved from the implied obligation to deal with it as a Treaty, each province will feel itself at liberty to amend it ad libitum, so as to suit its own views and interests; in fact, the whole of our labours will have been for nought, and we will have to renew our negotiations with all the colonies for the purpose of establishing some new scheme. I hope the House will not adopt any such a course as will postpone, perhaps for ever, or at all events for a long period, all chances of union. All the statesmen and public men who have written or spoken on the subject admit the advantages of a union, if it were practicable: and now when it is proved to be practicable, if we do not embrace this opportunity the present favourable time will pass away, and we may never […]
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[…] have it again. Because, just so surely as this scheme is defeated, will be revived the original proposition for a union of the Maritime Provinces, irrespective of Canada; they will not remain as they are now, powerless, scattered, helpless communities; they will form themselves into a power, which, though not so strong as if united with Canada, will, nevertheless, be a powerful and considerable community, and it will be then too late for us to attempt to strengthen ourselves by this scheme, which, in the words of the resolution, “is for the best interests, and present and future prosperity of British North America.”
If we are not blind to our present position, we must see the hazardous situation in which all the great interests of Canada stand in respect to the United States. I am no alarmist. I do not believe in the prospect of immediate war. I believe that the common sense of the two nations will prevent a war; still we cannot trust to probabilities. The Government and Legislature would be wanting in their duty to the people if they ran any risk. We know that the United States at this moment are engaged in a war of enormous dimensions—that the occasion of a war with Great Britain has again and again arisen, and may at any time in the future again arise. We cannot foresee what may be the result; we cannot say but that the two nations may drift into a war as other nations have done before.
It would then be too late when war had commenced to think of measures for strengthening ourselves, or to begin negotiations for a union with the sister provinces. At this moment, in consequence of the ill-feeling which has arisen between England and the United States—a feeling of which Canada was not the cause—in consequence of the irritation which now exists, owing to the unhappy state of affairs on this continent, the Reciprocity Treaty, it seems probable, is about to be brought to an end—our trade is hampered by the passport system, and at any moment we may be deprived of permission to carry our goods through United States channels—the bonded goods system may be done away with, and the winter trade through the United States put an end to.
Our merchants may be obliged to return to the old system of bringing in during the summer months the supplies for the whole year. Ourselves already threatened, our trade interrupted, our intercourse, political and commercial, destroyed, if we do not take warning now when we have the opportunity, and while one avenue is threatened to be closed, open another by taking advantage of the present arrangement and the desire of the Lower Provinces to draw closer the alliance between us, we may suffer commercial and political disadvantages it may take long for us to overcome.
The Conference having come to the conclusion that a legislative union, pure and simple, was impracticable, our next attempt was to form a government upon federal principles, which would give to the General Government the strength of a legislative and administrative union, while at the same time it preserved that liberty of action for the different sections which is allowed by a Federal Union. And I am strong in the belief—that we have hit upon the happy medium in those resolutions, and that we have formed a scheme of government which unites the advantages of both, giving us the strength of a legislative union and the sectional freedom of a federal union, with protection to local interests. In doing so we had the advantage of the experience of the United States. It is the fashion now to enlarge on the defects of the Constitution of the United States, but I am not one of those who look upon it as a failure. (Hear, hear.)
I think and believe that it is one of the most skilful works which human intelligence ever created; is one of the most perfect organizations that ever governed a free people. To say that it has some defects is but to say that it is not the work of Omniscience, but of human intellects. We are happily situated in having had the opportunity of watching its operation, seeing its working from its infancy till now.
It was in the main formed on the model of the Constitution of Great Britain, adapted to the circumstances of a new country, and was perhaps the only practicable system that could have been adopted under the circumstances existing at the time of its formation. We can now take advantage of the experience of the last seventy-eight years, during which that Constitution has existed, and I am strongly of the belief that we have, in a great measure, avoided in this system which we propose for the adoption of the people of Canada, the defects which time and events have shown to exist in the American Constitution. In the first place, by a resolution which meets with the universal approval of the people of this country, we have provided that for all time to come, so far as we can legislate for the future, we […]
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[…] shall have as the head of the executive power, the Sovereign of Great Britain. (Hear, hear.) No one can look into futurity and say what will be the destiny of this country. Changes come over nations and peoples in the course of ages. But, so far as we can legislate, we provide that, for all time to come, the Sovereign of Great Britain shall be the Sovereign of British North America.
By adhering to the monarchical principle, we avoid one defect inherent in the Constitution of the United States. By the election of the President by a majority and for a short period, he never is the sovereign and chief of the nation. He is never looked up to by the whole people as the head and front of the nation. He is at best but the successful leader of a party. This defect is all the greater on account of the practice of re-election. During his first term of office, he is employed in taking steps to secure his own re-election, and for his party a continuance of power. We avoid this by adhering to the monarchical principle—the Sovereign whom you respect and love. I believe that it is of the utmost importance to have that principle recognized, so that we shall have a Sovereign who is placed above the region of party—to whom all parties look up—who is not elevated by the action of one party nor depressed by the action of another, who is the common head and sovereign of all. (Hear, hear and cheers.) In the Constitution we propose to continue the system of Responsible Government, which has existed in this province since 1841, and which has long obtained in the Mother Country.
This is a feature of our Constitution as we have it now, and as we shall have it in the Federation, in which, I think, we avoid one of the great defects in the Constitution of the United States. There the President, during his term of office, is in a great measure a despot, a one-man power, with the command of the naval and military forces—with an immense amount of patronage as head of the Executive, and with the veto power as a branch of the legislature, perfectly uncontrolled by responsible advisers, his cabinet being departmental officers merely, whom he is not obliged by the Constitution to consult with, unless he chooses to do so. With us the Sovereign, or in this country the Representative of the Sovereign, can act only on the advice of his ministers, those ministers being responsible to the people through Parliament. Prior to the formation of the American Union, as we all know, the different states which entered into it were separate colonies. They had no connection with each other further than that of having a common sovereign, just as with us at present. Their constitutions and their laws were different. They might and did legislate against each other, and when they revolted against the Mother Country they acted as separate sovereignties, and carried on the war by a kind of treaty of alliance against the common enemy.
Ever since the union was formed the difficulty of what is called “State Rights” has existed, and this had much to do in bringing on the present unhappy war in the United States. They commenced, in fact, at the wrong end. They declared by their Constitution that each state was a sovereignty in itself, and that all the powers incident to a sovereignty belonged to each state, except those powers which, by the Constitution, were conferred upon the General Government and Congress. Here we have adopted a different system. We have strengthened the General Government.
We have given the General Legislature all the great subjects of legislation. We have conferred on them, not only specifically and in detail, all the powers which are incident to sovereignty, but we have expressly declared that all subjects of general interest not distinctly and exclusively conferred upon the local governments and local legislatures, shall be conferred upon the General Government legislature.—We, have thus avoided that great source of weakness which has been the cause of the disruption of the United States. We have avoided all conflict of jurisdiction and authority, and if this Constitution is carried out, as it will be in full detail in the Imperial Act to be passed if the colonies adopt the scheme, we will have in fact, as I said before, all the advantages of a legislative union under one administration, with, at the same time the guarantees for local institutions and for local laws, which are insisted upon by so many in the provinces now, I hope, to be united. I think it is well that, in framing our Constitution—although my honorable friend the member for Hochelaga (Hon. Mr. Dorion) sneered at it the other day, in the discussion on the Address in reply to the speech from the Throne—our first act should have been to recognize the sovereignty of Her Majesty. (Hear, hear.)
I believe that, while England has no desire to lose her colonies, but wishes to retain them, while I am satisfied that the […]
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[…] public mind of England would deeply regret the loss of these provinces—yet, if the people of British North America after full deliberation bad stated that they considered it was for their interest, for the advantage of the future of British North America to sever the tie, such is the generosity of the people of England, that, whatever their desire to keep these colonies, they would not seek to compel us to remain unwilling subjects of the British Crown. If therefore, at the Conference, we had arrived at the conclusion, that it was for the interest of these provinces that a severance should take place, I am sure that Her Majesty and the Imperial Parliament would have sanctioned that severance. We accordingly felt that there was a propriety in giving a distinct declaration of opinion on that point, and that, in framing the Constitution, its first sentence should declare, that “The Executive authority or government shall be vested in the Sovereign of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and be administered according to the well understood principles of the British Constitution, by the Sovereign personally, or by the Representative of the Sovereign duly authorised.” That resolution met with the unanimous assent of the Conference. The desire to remain connected with Great Britain and to retain our allegiance to Her Majesty was unanimous. Not a single suggestion was made, that it could, by any possibility, be for the interest of the colonies, or of any section or portion of them, that there should be a severance of our connection.
Although we knew it to be possible that Canada, from her position, might be exposed to all the horrors of war, by reason of causes of hostility arising between Great Britain and the United States—causes over which we had no control, and which we had no hand in bringing about—yet there was a unanimous feeling of willingness to run all the hazards of war, if war must come, rather than lose the connection between the Mother Country and these colonies. (Cheers.) We provide that “the Executive authority shall be administered by the Sovereign personally, or by the Representative of the Sovereign duly authorized.” It is too much to expect that the Queen should vouchsafe us her personal governance or presence, except to pay us, as the heir apparent of the Throne, our future Sovereign has already paid us, the graceful compliment of a visit.
The Executive authority must therefore be administered by Her Majesty’s Representative. We place no restriction on Her Majesty’s prerogative in the selection of her representative. As it is now, so it will be if this Constitution is adopted. The Sovereign has unrestricted freedom of choice. Whether in making her selection she may send us one of her own family, a Royal Prince, as a Viceroy to rule over us, or one of the great statesmen of England to represent her, we know not. We leave that to Her Majesty in all confidence. But we may be permitted to hope, that when the union takes place, and we become the great country which British North America is certain to be, it will be an object worthy the ambition of the statesmen of England to be charged with presiding over our destinies. (Hear, hear.) Let me now invite the attention of the House to the provisions in the Constitution respecting the legislative power. The sixth resolution says, “There shall be a general legislature or parliament for the federated provinces, composed of a Legislative Council and a House of Commons.”
This resolution has been cavilled at in the English press as if it excluded the Sovereign as a portion of the legislature. In one sense, that stricture was just—because in strict constitutional language, the legislature of England consists of King, Lords and Commons. But, on the other hand, in ordinary parlance we speak of “the King and his Parliament,” or “the King summoning his Parliament,” the three estates—Lords spiritual, temporal Lords, and the House of Commons, and I observe that such a writer as Hallam occasionally uses the word Parliament in that restricted sense. At best it is merely a verbal criticism.
The legislature of British North America will be composed of King, Lords, and Commons. The Legislative Council will stand in the same relation to the Lower House, as the House of Lords to the House of Commons in England, having the same power of initiating all matters of legislation, except the granting of money. As regards the Lower House, it may not appear to matter much, whether it is called the House of Commons or House of Assembly. It will bear whatever name the Parliament of England may choose to give it, but “The House of Commons” is the name we should prefer, as showing that it represents the Commons of […]
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[…] Canada, in the same way that the English House of Commons represents the Commons of England, with the same privileges, the same parliamentary usage, and the same parliamentary authority. In settling the constitution of the Lower House, that which peculiarly represents the people, it was agreed that the principle of representation based on population should be adopted, and the mode of applying that principle is fully developed in these resolutions. When I speak of representation by population, the House will of course understand, that universal suffrage is not in any way sanctioned, or admitted by these resolutions, as the basis on which the constitution of the popular branch should rest. In order to protect local interests, and to prevent sectional jealousies, it was found requisite that the three great divisions into which British North America is separated, should be represented in the Upper House on the principle of equality. There are three great sections, having different interests, in this proposed Confederation.
We have Western Canada, an agricultural country far away from the sea, and having the largest population who have agricultural interests principally to guard. We have Lower Canada, with other and separate interests, and especially with institutions and laws which she jealously guards against absorption by any larger, more numerous, or stronger power. And we have the Maritime Provinces, having also different sectional interests of their own, having, from their position, classes and interests which we do not know in Western Canada. Accordingly, in the Upper House,—the controlling and regulating, but not the initiating, branch (for we know that here as in England, to the Lower House will practically belong the initiation of matters of great public interest), in the House which has the sober second-thought in legislation—it is provided that each of those great sections shall be represented equally by 24 members.
The only exception to that condition of equality is in the case of Newfoundland, which has an interest of its own, lying, as it does, at the mouth of the great river St. Lawrence, and more connected, perhaps, with Canada than with the Lower Provinces. It has, comparatively speaking, no common interest with the other Maritime Provinces, but has sectional interests and sectional claims of its own to be protected. It, therefore has been dealt with separately, and is to have a separate representation in the Upper House, thus varying from the equality established between the other sections.—As may be well conceived, great difference of opinion at first existed as to the constitution of the Legislative Council. In Canada the elective principle prevailed; in the Lower Provinces, with the exemption of Prince Edward Island, the nominative principle was the rule. We found a general disinclination,on the part of the Lower Provinces to adopt the elective principle; indeed, I do not think there was a dissenting voice in the Conference against the adoption of the nominative principle, except from Prince Edward Island. The delegates from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, as one man, were in favor of nomination by the Crown. And nomination by the Crown is of course the system which is most in accordance with the British Constitution.
We resolved then, that the constitution of the Upper House should be in accordance with the British system as nearly as circumstances would allow. An hereditary Upper House is impracticable in this young country. Here we have none of the elements for the formation of a landlord aristocracy—no men of large territorial positions—no class separated from the mass of the people. An hereditary body is altogether unsuited to our state of society, and would soon dwindle into nothing. The only mode of adapting the English system to the Upper House, is by conferring the power of appointment on the Crown (as the English peers are appointed), but that the appointments should be for life. The arguments for an elective Council are numerous and strong; and I ought to say so, as one of the Administration responsible for introducing the elective principle into Canada. (Hear, hear.)
I hold that this principle has not been a failure in Canada; but there were causes—which we did not take into consideration at the time—why it did not so fully succeed in Canada as we had expected.
One great cause was the enormous extent of the constituencies and the immense labor which consequently devolved on those who sought the suffrages of the people for election to the Council. For the same reason the expense—(laughter)—the legitimate expense was so enormous that men of standing in the country, eminently fitted for such a position, were prevented from coming forward. At first, I admit, men of the first standing did come forward, but we […]
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[…] have seen that in every succeeding election in both Canadas there has been an increasing disinclination, on the part of men of standing and political experience and weight in the country, to become candidates; while, on the other hand, all the young men, the active politicians, those who have resolved to embrace the life of a statesman, have sought entrance to the House of Assembly. The nominative system in this country, was to a great extent successful, before the introduction of responsible government. Then the Canadas were to a great extent Crown colonies, and the upper branch of the legislature consisted of gentlemen chosen from among the chief judicial and ecclesiastical dignitaries, the heads of departments, and other men of the first position in the country. Those bodies commanded great respect from the character, standing, and weight of the individuals composing them, but they had little sympathy with the people or their representatives, and collisions with the Lower House frequently occurred, especially in Lower Canada. When responsible government was introduced, it became necessary for the Governor of the day to have a body of advisers who had the confidence of the House of Assembly which could make or unmake ministers as it chose.
The Lower House in effect pointed out who should be nominated to the Upper House; for the ministry, being dependent altogether on the lower branch of the legislature for support, selected members for the Upper House from among their political friends at the dictation of the House of Assembly. The Council was becoming less and less a substantial check on the legislation of the Assembly; but under the system now proposed, such will not be the case. No ministry can in future do what they have done in Canada before,—they cannot, with the view of carrying any measure, or of strengthening the party, attempt to overrule the independent opinion of the Upper House, by filling it with a number of its partisans and political supporters. The provision in the Constitution, that the Legislative Council shall consist of a limited number of members—that each of the great sections shall appoint twenty-four members and no more, will prevent the Upper House from being swamped from time to time by the ministry of the day, for the purpose of carrying out their own schemes or pleasing their partisans.
The fact of the government being prevented from exceeding a limited number will preserve the independence of the Upper House, and make it, in reality, a separate and distinct chamber, having a legitimate and controlling influence in the legislation of the country. The objection has been taken that in consequence of the Crown being deprived of the right of unlimited appointment, there is a chance of a dead lock arising between the two branches of the legislature; a chance that the Upper House being altogether independent of the Sovereign, of the Lower House, and of the advisers of the Crown, may act independently, and so independently as to produce a dead lock. I do not anticipate any such result.
In the first place we know that in England it does not arise. There would be no use of an Upper House, if it did not exercise, when it thought proper, the right of opposing or amending or postponing the legislation of the Lower House. It would be of no value whatever were it a mere chamber for registering the decrees of the Lower House. It must be an independent House, having a free action of its own, for it is only valuable as being a regulating body, calmly considering the legislation initiated by the popular branch, and preventing any hasty or ill considered legislation which may come from that body, but it will never set itself in opposition against the deliberate and understood wishes of the people.
Even the House of Lords, which as an hereditary body, is far more independent than one appointed for life can be, whenever it ascertains what is the calm, deliberate will of the people of England, it yields, and never in modern times has there been, in fact or act, any attempt to overrule the decisions of that House by the appointment of new peers, excepting, perhaps, once in the reign of Queen Anne. It is true that in 1832 such an increase was threatened in consequence of the reiterated refusal of the House of Peers to pass the Reform Bill. I have no doubt the threat would have been carried into effect, if necessary; but every one, even the Ministry who advised that step, admitted that it would be a revolutionary act, a breach of the Constitution to do so, and it was because of the necessity of preventing the bloody revolution which hung over the land, if the Reform Bill had been longer refused to the people of England, that they consented to the bloodless revolution of overriding the independent […]
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[…] opinion of the House of Lords on that question. (Hear, hear.)
Since that time it has never been attempted, and I am satisfied it will never be attempted again. Only a year or two ago the House of Lords rejected the Paper Duties Bill, and they acted quite constitutionally, according to the letter and as many think, according to the spirit of the Constitution in doing so. Yet when they found they had interfered with a subject which the people’s house claimed as belonging of right to themselves, the very next session they abandoned their position, not because they were convinced they had done wrong, but because they bad ascertained what was the deliberate voice of the representatives of the people on the subject. In this country, we must remember, that the gentlemen who will be selected for the Legislative Council stand on a very different footing from the peers of England. They have not like them any ancestral associations or position derived from history. They have not that direct influence on the people themselves, or on the popular branch of the legislature, which the peers of England exercise, from their great wealth, their vast territorial possessions, their numerous tenantry, and that prestige with which the exalted position of their class for centuries has invested them. (Hear, hear.)
The members of our Upper House will be like those of the Lower, men of the people, and from the people. The man put into the Upper House is as much a man of the people the day after, as the day before his elevation. Springing from the people, and one of them, he takes his seat in the Council with all the sympathies and feelings of a man of the people, and when he returns home, at the end of the session, he mingles with them on equal terms, and is influenced by the same feelings and associations, and events, as those which affect the mass around him. And is it, then, to be supposed that the members of the upper branch of the legislature will set themselves deliberately at work to oppose what they know to be the settled opinions and wishes of the people of the country? They will not do it. There is no fear of a dead lock between the two houses. There is an infinitely greater chance of a dead lock between the two branches of the legislature, should the elective principle be adopted, than with a nominated chamber—chosen by the Crown, and having no mission from the people.
The members of the Upper Chamber would then come from the people as well as those of the Lower House, and should any difference ever arise between both branches, the former could say to the members of the popular branch—”We as much represent the feelings of the people as you do, and even more so; we are not elected from small localities and for a short period; you as a body were elected at a particular time, when the public mind was running in a particular channel: you were returned to Parliament, not so much representing the general views of the country, on general questions, as upon the particular subjects which happened to engage the minds of the people when they went to the polls. We have as much right, or a better right, than you to be considered as representing the deliberate will of the people on general questions, and therefore we will not give way.” (Hear, hear.)
There is, I repeat, a greater danger of an irreconcilable difference of opinion between the two branches of the legislature, if the upper be elective, than if it holds its commission from the Crown. Besides, it must be remembered that an Upper House, the members of which are to be appointed for life, would not have the same quality of permanence as the House of Lords; our members would die; strangers would succeed them, whereas son succeeded father in the House of Lords. Thus the changes in the membership and state of opinion in our Upper House would always be more rapid than in the House of Lords. To show how speedily changes have occurred in the Upper House, as regards life members, I will call the attention of the House to the following facts:—At the call of the House, in February, 1856, forty-two life members responded; two years afterwards, in 1858, only thirty-five answered to their names; in 1862 there were only twenty-five life members left, and in 1864, but twenty-one. (Hear, hear.)
This shows how speedily changes take place in the life membership. But remarkable as this change has been, it is not so great as that in regard to the elected members. Though the elective principle only came into force in 1856, and although only twelve men were elected that year, and twelve more every two years since, twenty-four changes have already taken place by the decease of members, by the acceptance of office, and by resignation. So it is quite clear that, should there be on any question a difference of opinion between the Upper and Lower […]
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[…] Houses, the government of the day being obliged to have the confidence of the majority in the popular branch—would, for the purpose of bringing the former into accord and sympathy with the latter, fill up any vacancies that might occur, with men of the same political feelings and sympathies with the Government, and consequently with those of the majority in the popular branch; and all the appointments of the Administration would be made with the object of maintaining the sympathy and harmony between the two houses. (Hear, hear.)
There is this additional advantage to be expected from the limitation. To the Upper House is to be confided the protection of sectional interests; therefore is it that the three great divisions are there equally represented, for the purpose of defending such interests against the combinations of majorities in the Assembly. It will, therefore, become the interest of each section to be represented by its very best men, and the members of the Administration who belong to each section will see that such men are chosen, in case of a vacancy in their section. For the same reason each state of the American Union sends its two best men to represent its interests in the Senate. (Hear, hear.) It is provided in the Constitution that in the first selections for the Council, regard shall be had to those who now hold similar positions in the different colonies.
This, it appears to me, is a wise provision. In all the provinces, except Prince Edward, there are gentlemen who hold commissions for the Upper House for life. In Canada, there are a number who hold under that commission; but the majority of them hold by a commission, not, perhaps, from a monarchical point of view so honorable, because the Queen is the fountain of honor,—but still, as holding their appointment from the people, they may be considered as standing on a par with those who have Her Majesty’s commission. There can be no reason suggested why those who have had experience in legislation, whether they hold their positions by the election of the people or have received preferment from the Crown—there is no valid reason why those men should be passed over, and new men sought for to form the Legislative Council of the Confederation. It is, therefore, provided that the selection shall be made from those gentlemen who are now members of the upper branch of the Legislature in each of the colonies, for seats in the Legislative Council of the General Legislature.
The arrangement in this respect is somewhat similar to that by which Representative Peers are chosen from the Peers of Scotland and Ireland, to sit in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. In like manner, the members of the Legislative Council of the proposed Confederation will be first selected from the existing Legislative Councils of the various provinces. In the formation of the House of Commons, the principle of representation by population has been provided for in a manner equally ingenious and simple. The introduction of this principle presented at first the apparent difficulty of a constantly increasing body until, with the increasing population, it would become inconveniently and expensively large. But by adopting the representation of Lower Canada as a fixed standard—as the pivot on which the whole would turn—that province being the best suited for the purpose, on account of the comparatively permanent character of its population, and from its having neither the largest nor least number of inhabitants—we have been enabled to overcome the difficulty I have mentioned.
We have introduced the system of representation by population without the danger of an inconvenient increase in the number of representatives on the recurrence of each decennial period. The whole thing is worked by a simple rule of three. For instance, we have in Upper Canada 1,400,000 of a population; in Lower Canada 1,100,000. Now, the proposition is simply this—if Lower Canada, with its population of 1,100,000, has a right to 65 members, how many members should Upper Canada have, with its larger population of 1,400,000? The same rule applies to the other provinces—the proportion is always observed and the principle of representation by population carried out, while, at the same time, there will not be decennially an inconvenient increase in the numbers of the Lower House.
At the same time, there is a constitutional provision that hereafter, if deemed advisable, the total number of representatives may be increased from 194, the number fixed in the first instance. In that case, if an increase is made, Lower Canada is still to remain the pivot on which the whole calculation will turn. If Lower Canada, instead of sixty-five, shall have seventy members, then the calculation will be, if Lower Canada has seventy members, with such a population, […]
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[…] how many shall Upper Canada have with a larger population? I was in favor of a larger House than one hundred and ninety-four, but was overruled.
I was perhaps singular in the opinion, but I thought it would be well to commence with a larger representation in the lower branch. The arguments against this were, that, in the first place, it would cause additional expense; in the next place, that in a new country like this, we could not get a sufficient number of qualified men to be representatives. My reply was that the number is rapidly increasing as we increase in education and wealth; that a larger field would be open to political ambition by having a larger body of representatives; that by having numerous and smaller constituencies, more people would be interested in the working of the union, and that there would be a wider field for selection for leaders of governments and leaders of parties. These are my individual sentiments,—which, perhaps, I have no right to express here—but I was overruled, and we fixed on the number of one hundred and ninety-four, which no one will say is large or extensive, when it is considered that our present number in Canada alone is one hundred and thirty. The difference between one hundred and thirty and one hundred and ninety-four is not great, considering the large increase that will be made to our population when Confederation is carried into effect.
While the principle of representation by population is adopted with respect to the popular branch of the legislature, not a single member of the Conference, as I stated before, not a single one of the representatives of the government or of the opposition of any one of the Lower Provinces was in favor of universal suffrage. Every one felt that in this respect the principle of the British Constitution should be carried out, and that classes and property should be represented as well as numbers. Insuperable difficulties would have presented themselves if we had attempted to settle now the qualification for the elective franchise. We have different laws in each of the colonies fixing the qualification of electors for their own local legislatures; and we therefore adopted a similar clause to that which is contained in the Canada Union Act of 1841, viz., that all the laws which affected the qualification of members and of voters, which affected the appointment and conduct of returning officers and the proceedings at elections, as well as the trial of controverted elections in the separate provinces, should obtain in the first election to the Confederate Parliament, so that every man who has now a vote in his own province should continue to have a vote in choosing a representative to the first Federal Parliament.
And it was left to the Parliament of the Confederation, as one of their first duties, to consider and to settle by an act of their own the qualification for the elective franchise, which would apply to the whole Confederation. In considering the question of the duration of Parliament, we came to the conclusion to recommend a period of five years. I was in favor of a longer period. I thought that the duration of the local legislatures should not be shortened so as to be less than four years, as at present, and that the General Parliament should have as long a duration as that of the United Kingdom. I was willing to have gone to the extent of seven years; but a term of five years was preferred, and we had the example of the New Zealand carefully considered, not only locally, but by the Imperial Parliament, and which gave the provinces of those islands a general parliament with a duration of five years. But it was a matter of little importance whether five years or seven years was the term, the power of dissolution by the Crown having been reserved.
I find, on looking at the duration of parliaments since the accession of George III. to the Throne, that excluding the present parliament, there have been seventeen parliaments, the average period of whose existence has been about three years and a half. That average is less than the average duration of the parliaments in Canada since the union, so that it was not a matter of much importance whether we fixed upon five or seven years as the period of duration of our General Parliament. A good deal of misapprehension has arisen from the accidental omission of some words from the 24th resolution. It was thought that by it the local legislatures were to have the power of arranging hereafter, and from time to time of readjusting the different constituencies and settling the size and boundaries of the various electoral districts. The meaning of the resolution is simply this, that for the first General Parliament, the arrangement of constituencies shall be made by the existing local legislatures; that in Canada, for instance, the present Canadian Parliament shall arrange what are to be the constituencies of Upper Canada, and to make such changes as may be necessary in arranging […]
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[…] for the seventeen additional members given to it by the Constitution; and that it may also, if it sees fit, alter the boundaries of the existing constituencies of Lower Canada. In short, this Parliament shall settle what shall be the different constituencies electing members to the first Federal Parliament.
And so the other provinces, the legislatures of which will fix the limits of their several constituencies in the session in which they adopt the new Constitution. Afterwards the local legislatures may alter their own electoral limits as they please, for their own local elections. But it would evidently be improper to leave to the Local Legislature the power to alter the constituencies sending members to the General Legislature after the General Legislature shall have been called into existence. Were this the case, a member of the General Legislature might at any time find himself ousted from his seat by an alteration of his constituency by the Local Legislature in his section. No, after the General Parliament meets, in order that it may have full control of its own legislation, and be assured of its position, it must have the full power of arranging and re-arranging the electoral limits of its constituencies as it pleases, such being one of the powers essentially necessary to such a Legislature. (Hear, hear.)
I shall not detain the House by entering into a consideration at any length of the different powers conferred upon the General Parliament as contradistinguished from those reserved to the local legislatures; but any honorable member on examining the list of different subjects which are to be assigned to the General and Local Legislatures respectively, will see that all the great questions which affect the general interests of the Confederacy as a whole, are confided to the Federal Parliament, while the local interests and local laws of each section are preserved intact, and entrusted to the care of the local bodies. As a matter of course, the General Parliament must have the power of dealing with the public debt and property of the Confederation.
Of course, too, it must have the regulation of trade and commerce, of customs and excise. The Federal Parliament must have the sovereign power of raising money from such sources and by such means as the representatives of the people will allow. It will be seen that the local legislatures have the control of all local works; and it is a matter of great importance, and one of the chief advantages of the Federal Union and of local legislatures, that each province will have the power and means of developing its own resources and aiding its own progress after its own fashion and in its own way. Therefore all the local improvements, all local enterprises or undertakings of any kind, have been left to the care and management of the local legislatures of each province. (Cheers.)
It is provided that all “lines of steam or other ships, railways, canals and other works, connecting any two or more of the provinces together or extending beyond the limits of any province,” shall belong to the General Government, and be under the control of the General Legislature. In like manner “lines of steamships between the Federated Provinces and other countries, telegraph communication and the incorporation of telegraph companies, and all such works as shall, although lying within any province, be specially declared by the Acts authorizing them, to be for the general advantage,” shall belong to the General Government. For instance, the Welland Canal, though lying wholly within one section, and the St. Lawrence Canals in two only, may be properly considered national works, and for the general benefit of the whole Federation.
Again, the census, the ascertaining of our numbers and the extent of our resources, must, as a matter of general interest, belong to the General Government. So also with the defences of the country. One of the great advantages of Confederation is, that we shall have a united, a concerted, and uniform system of defence. (Hear.) We are at this moment with a different militia system in each colony—in some of the colonies with an utter want of any system of defence. We have a number of separate staff establishments, without any arrangement between the colonies as to the means, either of defence or offence. But, under the union, we will have one system of defence and one system of militia organization.
In the event of the Lower Provinces being threatened, we can send the large militia forces of Upper Canada to their rescue. Should we have to fight on our lakes against a foreign foe, we will have the hardy seamen of the Lower Provinces coming to our assistance and manning our vessels. (Hear, hear.) We will have one system of defence and be one people, acting together alike in peace and in war. (Cheers.) The criminal […]
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[…] law too—the determination of what is a crime and what is not and how crime shall be punished—is left to the General Government. This is a matter almost of necessity. It is of great importance that we should have the same criminal law throughout these provinces—that what is a crime in one part of British America, should be a crime in every part—that there should be the same protection of life and property as in another. It is one of the defects in the United States system, that each separate state has or may have a criminal code of its own,—that what may be a capital offence if one state, may be a venial offence, punishable slightly, in another. But under our Constitution we shall have one body of criminal law, based on the criminal law of England, and operating equally throughout British America, so that a British American, belonging to what province he may, or going to any other part of the Confederation, knows what his rights are in that respect, and what his punishment will be if an offender against the criminal laws of the land. I think this is one of the most marked instances in which we take advantage of the experience derived from our observations of the defects in the Constitution of the neighboring Republic. (Hear, hear.)
The 33rd provision is of very great importance to the future well-being of these colonies. It commits to the General Parliament the “rendering uniform all or any of the laws relative to property and civil rights in Upper Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, and rendering uniform the procedure of all or many of the courts in these provinces.” The great principles which govern the laws of all the provinces, with the single exception of Lower Canada, are the same, although there may be a divergence in details; and it is gratifying to find, on the part of the Lower Provinces, a general desire to join together with Upper Canada in this matter, and to procure, as soon as possible, an assimilation of the statutory laws and the procedure in the courts, of all these provinces.
At present there is a good deal of diversity. In one of the colonies, for instance, they have no municipal system at all. In another, the municipal system is merely permissive, and has not been adopted to any extent. Although, therefore, a legislative union was found to be almost impracticable, it was understood, so far as we could influence the future, that the first act of the Confederate Government should be to procure an assimilation of the statutory law of all those provinces, which has, as its root and foundation, the common law of England. But to prevent local interests from being over-ridden, the same section makes provision, that, while power is given to the General Legislature to deal with this subject, no change in this respect should have the force and authority of law in any province until sanctioned by the Legislature of that province. (Hear, hear.)
The General Legislature is to have power to establish a general Court of Appeal for the Federated Provinces. Although the Canadian Legislature has always had the power to establish a Court of Appeal, to which appeals may be made from the courts of Upper and Lower Canada, we have never availed ourselves of the power. Upper Canada has its own Court of Appeal, so has Lower Canada. And this system will continue until a General Court of Appeal shall be established by the General Legislature. The Constitution does not provide that such a court shall be established.
There are many arguments for and against the establishment of such a court. But it was thought wise and expedient to put into the Constitution a power to the General Legislature, that, if after full consideration they think it advisable to establish a General Court of Appeal from all the Superior Courts of all the provinces, they may do so. (Hear, hear.) I shall not go over the other powers that are conferred on the General Parliament. Most of them refer to matters of financial and commercial interest, and I leave those subjects in other and better hands. Besides all the powers that are specifically given in the 37th and last item of this portion of the Constitution, confers on the General Legislature the general mass of sovereign legislation, the power to legislate on “all matters of a general character, not specially and exclusively reserved for the local governments and legislatures.” This is precisely the provision which is wanting in the Constitution of the United States. It is here that we find the weakness of the American system—the point where the American Constitution breaks down. (Hear, hear.)
It is in itself a wise and necessary provision. We thereby strengthen the Central Parliament, and make the Confederation one people and one government, instead of five peoples and five governments, with merely a point of authority connecting us to a limited and insufficient extent. […]
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[…] With respect to the local governments, it is provided that each shall be governed by a chief executive officer, who shall be nominated by the General Government. As this is to be one united province, with the local governments and legislatures subordinate to the General Government and Legislature, it is obvious that the chief executive officer in each of the provinces must be subordinate as well. The General Government assumes towards the local governments precisely the same position as the Imperial Government holds with respect to each of the colonies now; so that as the Lieutenant Governor of each of the different provinces is now appointed directly by the Queen, and is directly responsible, and reports directly to Her, so will the executives of the local governments hereafter be subordinate to the Representative of the Queen, and be responsible and report to him. Objection has been taken that there is an infringement of the Royal prerogative in giving the pardoning power to the local governors, who are not appointed directly by the Crown, but only indirectly by the Chief Executive of the Confederation, who is appointed by the Crown.
This provision was inserted in the Constitution on account of the practical difficulty which must arise if the power is confined to the Governor General.
For example, if a question arose about the discharge of a prisoner convicted of a minor offence, say in Newfoundland, who might be in imminent danger of losing his life if he remained in confinement, the exercise of the pardoning power might come too late if it were necessary to wait for the action of the Governor General. It must be remembered that the pardoning power not only extends to capital cases, but to every case of conviction and sentence, no matter how trifling—even to the case of a fine in the nature of a sentence on a criminal conviction.
It extends to innumerable cases, where, if the responsibility for its exercise were thrown on the General Executive, it could not be so satisfactorily discharged, Of course there must be, in each province, a legal adviser of the Executive, occupying the position of our Attorney General, as there is in every state of the American Union. This officer will be an officer of the Local Government; but, if the pardoning power is reserved for the Chief Executive, there must, in every case where the exercise of the pardoning power is sought, be a direct communication and report from the local law officer to the Governor General.
The practical inconvenience of this was felt to be so great, that it was thought well to propose the arrangement we did, without any desire to infringe upon the prerogatives of the Crown, for our whole action shows that the Conference, in every step they took, were actuated by a desire to guard jealously these prerogatives. (Hear, hear.) It is a subject, however, of Imperial interest, and if the Imperial Government and Imperial Parliament are not convinced by the arguments we will be able to press upon them for the continuation of that clause, then, of course, as the over-ruling power, they may set it aside. (Hear, hear.)
There are numerous subjects which belong, of right, both to the Local and the General Parliaments. In all these cases it is provided, in order to prevent a conflict of authority, that where there is concurrent jurisdiction in the General and Local Parliaments, the same rule should apply as now applies in cases where there is concurrent jurisdiction in the Imperial and in the Provincial Parliaments, and that when the legislation of the one is adverse to or contradictory of the legislation of the other, in all such cases the action of the General Parliament must overrule, ex-necessitate, the action of the Local Legislature. (Hear, hear.)
We have introduced also all those provisions which are necessary in order to the full working out of the British Constitution in these provinces. We provide that there shall be no money votes, unless those votes are introduced in the popular branch of the Legislature on the authority of the responsible advisers of the Crown—those with whom the responsibility rests of equalizing revenue and expenditure—that there can be no expenditure or authorization of expenditure by Address or in any other way unless initiated by the Crown on the advice of its responsible advisers. (Hear, hear.)
As regards the financial features of the scheme, the arrangements made as to the present liabilities of the several provinces, and the future liabilities of the Confederation, on these and kindred matters, I have no doubt that my honorable friends, the Finance Minister [Alexander T. Galt] and the President of the Council [George Brown], will speak at full length, and that they will be able to show you that this branch of the subject has received the fullest consideration. I feel I would be intruding myself unnecessarily on the House if, with my inferior knowledge of those subjects I were to detain you by venturing to speak of them, when I know that they will be so ably […]
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[…] and fully gone into by my two honorable friends. The last resolution of any importance is one which, although not affecting the substance of the Constitution, is of interest to us all. It is that “Her Majesty the Queen be solicited to determine the rank and name of the federated provinces.” I do not know whether there will be any expression of opinion in this House on this subject—whether we are still to retain our name and rank as a province. But I have no doubt Her Majesty will give the matter Her gracious consideration, that She will give us a name satisfactory to us all, and that the rank She will confer upon us will be a rank worthy of our position, of our resources, and of our future. (Cheers.)
Let me again, before I sit down, impress upon this House the necessity of meeting this question in a spirit of compromise, with a disposition to judge the matter as a whole, to consider whether really it is for the benefit and advantage of the country to form a Confederation of all the provinces; and if honorable gentlemen, whatever may have been their preconceived ideas as to the merits of the details of this measure, whatever may still be their opinions as to these details, if they really believe that the scheme is one by which the prosperity of the country will be increased, and its future progress secured, I ask them to yield to their own views, and to deal with the scheme according to its merits as one great whole. (Hear, hear.)
One argument, but not a strong one, has been used against this Confederation, that it is an advance towards independence. Some are apprehensive that the very fact of our forming this union will hasten the time when we shall be severed from the mother country. I have no apprehension of that kind. I believe it will have the contrary effect. I believe that as we grow stronger, that, as it is felt in England we have become as a people, able from our union, our strength, our population, and the development of our resources, to take our position among the nations of the world, she will be less willing to part with us than she would be now, when we are broken up into a number of insignificant colonies, subject to attack piece-meal without any concerted action or common organization of defence. I am strongly of opinion that year by year, as we grow in population and strength, England will more see the advantages of maintaining the alliance between British North America and herself.
Does any one imagine that, when our population instead of three and a-half, will be seven millions, as it will be ere many hears pass, we would be one whit more willing than now to sever the connection with England? Would not those seven millions be just as anxious to maintain their allegiance to the Queen and their connection with the Mother Country, as we are now? Will the addition to our numbers of the people of the Lower Provinces, in any way lesson our desire to continue our connection with the Mother Country? I believe the people of Canada East and West to be truly loyal. But, if they can by possibility be exceeded in loyalty, it is by the inhabitants of the Maritime Provinces. Loyalty with them is an overruling passion. (Hear, hear.) In all parts of the Lower Provinces there is a rivalry between the opposing political parties as to which shall most strongly express and most effectively carry out the principle of loyalty to Her Majesty, and to the British Crown. (Hear, hear.)
When this union takes place, will be at the outset no inconsiderable people. We find ourselves with a population approaching four millions of fouls. Such a population in Europe would make a second, or at least, a third rate power. And with a rapidly increasing population—for I a satisfied that under this union our population will increase in a still greater ratio than ever before—with increased credit—with a higher position in the eyes of Europe—with the increased security we can offer to immigrants, who would naturally prefer to seek a new home in what is known to them as a great country, than in any one little colony or another—with all this I am satisfied that, great as has been our increase in the last twenty-five years since the union between Upper and Lower Canada, our future progress, during the next quarter of a century, will be vastly greater. (Cheers.)
And when, by means of this rapid increase, we become a nation of eight or nine millions of inhabitants, our alliance will be worthy of being sought by the great nations of the earth. (Hear, hear.) I am proud to believe that our desire for a permanent alliance will be reciprocated in England. I know that there is a party in England—but it is inconsiderable in numbers, though strong in intellect and power—which speaks of the desirability of getting rid of the colonies; but I believe such is not the feeling of the statesmen and the people of England. I believe […]
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[…] it will never be the deliberately expressed determination of the Government of Great Britain. (Hear, hear.)
The colonies are now in a transition state. Gradually a different colonial system is being developed—and it will become, year by year, less a case of dependence on our part, and of overruling protection on the part of the Mother Country, and more a case of a healthy and cordial alliance. Instead of looking upon us as a merely dependent colony, England will have in us a friendly nation—a subordinate but still a powerful people—to stand by her in North America in peace or in war. (Cheers.)
The people of Australia will be such another subordinate nation. And England will have this advantage, if her colonies progress under the new colonial system, as I believe they will, that, though at war with all the rest of the world, she will be able to look to the subordinate nations in alliance with her, and owning allegiance to the same Sovereign, who will assist in enabling her again to meet the whole world in arms, as she has done before. (Cheers.) And if, in the great Napoleonic war, with every port in Europe closed against her commerce, she was yet able to hold her own, how much more will that be the case when she has a colonial empire rapidly increasing in power, in wealth, in influence, and in position. (Hear, hear.)
It is true that we stand in danger, as we have stood in danger again and again in Canada, of being plunged into war and suffering all its dreadful consequences, as the result of causes over which we have no control, by reason of their connection. This, however, did not intimidate us. At the very mention of the prospect of a war some time ago, how were the feelings of the people aroused from one extremity of British America to the other, and preparations made for meeting its worst consequences. Although the people of this country are fully aware of the horrors of war—should a war arise, unfortunately, between the United States and England, and we all pray it never may—they are still ready to encounter all perils of that kind, for the sake of the connection with England. There is not one adverse voice, not one adverse opinion on that point. We all feel the advantages we derive from our connection with England. So long as that alliance is maintained, we enjoy, under her protection, the privileges of constitutional liberty according to the British system. We will enjoy here that which is the great test of constitutional freedom—we will have the rights of the minority respected. (Hear, hear.)
In all countries the rights of the majority take care of themselves, but it is only in countries like England, enjoying constitutional liberty, and safe from the tyranny of a single despot or of an unbridled democracy, that the rights of minorities are regarded. So long, too, as we form a portion of the British Empire, we shall have the example of her free institutions, of the high standard of the character of her statesmen and public men, of the purity of her legislation, and the upright administration of her laws. In this younger country one great advantage of our connection with Great Britain will be, that, under her auspices, inspired by her example, a portion of her empire, our public men will be actuated by principles similar to those which actuate the statesmen at home These although not material, physical benefits, of which you can make an arithmetical calculation, are of such overwhelming advantage to our future interests and standing as a nation, that to obtain them is well worthy of any sacrifices we may be called upon to make, and the people of this country are ready to make them. (Cheers.)
We should feel, also, sincerely grateful to beneficent Providence that we have had the opportunity vouchsafed us of calmly considering this great constitutional change, this peaceful revolution—that we have not been hurried into it, like the United States, by the exigencies of war—that we have not had a violent revolutionary period forced on us, as in other nations, by hostile action from without, or by domestic dissensions within. Here we are in peace and prosperity, under the fostering government of Great Britain—a dependent people, with a government having only a limited and delegated authority, and yet allowed, without restriction, and without jealousy on the part of the Mother Country, to legislator for ourselves, and peacefully and deliberately to consider and determine the future of Canada and of British North America. It is our happiness to know the expression of the will of our Gracious Sovereign, through Her Ministers, that we have her full sanction for our deliberations, that Her only solicitude is that we shall adopt a system which shall be really for our advantage, and that She promises to sanction whatever conclusion after full deliberation we may arrive at as to the best […]
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[…] mode of securing the well-being,—the present and future prosperity of British America.—(Cheers.) It is our privilege and happiness to be in such a position, and we cannot be too grateful for the blessings thus conferred upon us. (Hear, hear.)
I must apologize for having detained you so long—for having gone perhaps too much into tedious details with reference to the questions bearing on the Constitution now submitted to this House.—(Cries of “no, no” and “go on.”)—In conclusion, I would again implore the House not to let this opportunity to pass. It is an opportunity that may never recur. At the risk of repeating myself, I would say, it was only by a happy concurrence of circumstances, that we were enabled to bring this great question to its present position. If we do not take advantage of the time, if we show ourselves unequal to the occasion, it may never return, and we shall hereafter bitterly and unavailingly regret having failed to embrace the happy opportunity now offered of founding a great nation under the fostering care of Great Britain, and our Sovereign Lady, Queen Victoria. (Loud cheers, amidst which the honorable gentleman resumed his seat).
The House, at eleven, P.M., adjourned.
 Original edition footnote: For Resolutions, see Legislative Council, page 1.
 The Union Act, 1840 (U.K). Macdonald calls it the ‘union of 1841’, which refers to the year it was proclaimed, 1841.
 Canadian–American Reciprocity Treaty of 1854 (Elgin-Marcy Treaty). The treaty expired in 1866.
 The Union Act, 1840 (U.K). See footnote 2 for more information.