Despatch from Lieutenant Governor Arthur Gordon to Right Hon. Edward Cardwell (27 February 1865)

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Date: 1865-02-27
By: Arthur Gordon
Citation: Despatch from Lieutenant Governor Arthur Gordon to Right Hon. Edward Cardwell (27 February 1865) in UK, Parliament, Correspondence respecting the Proposed Union of the British North American Provinces (London: George Edward Eyre and William Spottiswoode, 1867).
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No. 4.

COPY of a DESPATCH from Lieut.-Governor the Hon. ARTHUR GORDON to the Right Hon. EDWARD CARDWELL, M.P.


Fredericton, N.B., February 27, 1865.
(Received March 14, 1865.)
(Answered No.60, March 18, 1865, page 116.)


A DISCUSSION has lately taken place in this Province with respect to one of the conditions of the Federal Union of British North America, which has excited much interest, and with respect to which it appears to me desirable that you should be placed in possession of the views of Her Majesty’s Government.

2. The resolutions agreed to at Quebec, and which are to form the basis of the proposed Federal Union of the British American Provinces, have reference to a great variety of subjects of very different degrees of importance. With some of these matters the local Legislatures are already fully competent to deal, whilst others are of a character which removes them beyond their cognizance.

3. It was my belief that the aid of the Imperial Parliament would be sought only to give effect to those general provisions of a constitutional nature which could not be brought into operation by the existing local Assemblies ; that it would be called upon to enact the Federative Union, and to decline the limits of the authority of the central and local Governments and Legislatures, but that the arrangement of matters of purely or mainly local interest would be left to the Federal Legislature, or to those of the separate Provinces, as it may fairly be presumed that these bodies would faithfully carry into execution the conditions upon which their Union had itself been based.

4. I find, however, that a very general impression prevails that the construction of the Intercolonial Railroad from Riviere du Loup to Truro is to be provided for by a clause in the Imperial Act giving effect to the proposed Federal Union.

5. I do not myself consider it probably that Her Majesty’s Government will make such a proposal to the Imperial parliament, for i cannot but conceive that such a proposal would appear to Her Majesty’s Government to be either unnecessary or unjust, — unnecessary it (as we must conclude will be the case should no unforeseen or insuperable obstacles arise) the new Federal Legislature votes the construction of a work, the immediate commencement of which forms one of the conditions of the agreement to which it owes its existence, — unjust if it were to have the effect of forcing on the people of British America the extension of a work which their representatives in Parliament may consider it inexpedient to undertake.

6. Nor does it appear to be very likely that the British Parliament would enact a law involving a very large expenditure of money not collected under its own authority, a law, moreover, which it would be impossible to enforce, as no penalty could be inflicted after the passage of the Act, in the vent of the subsequent neglect of its provisions by the Federal Government and Legislature.

7. Neither do I imagine that, the question being one which primarily concerns the people of British North America, the British Parliament would consent to fetter the discretion of their representatives in dealin with it as they may consider most conducive to the advantage of the United Provinces, more especially when it is remembered that the subject is one with which their local Legislature are already, even under the existing state of things, fully competent to consider.

8. Still less do i think it probable, even were a clause of a general character enacting the completion of this great work to be incorporated in an Act of the Imperial Parliament, that Her Majesty’s Government would consent to introduce, or that Parliament would consent to sanction all those details which would be required to render such a clause effective ; for unless the route, the mode of construction, the minimum sum to be annually devoted to the work, and the time at which it is to be completed, are all prescribed, the scheme may be subject to ultimate defeat by its rejection on one of these points by the Federal Parliament ; whilst the assumption of those, who believe that a clause concerning the railway will form part of the Imperial Act, is that the completion of the work will be so secured as to remove all liability of its being affected by any subsequent action on the part of the Federal or Local Governments and Assemblies.

9. I confess, therefore, that I am unable altogether to share the confident belief of my Council that this work (of the importance of which I need not say I am very fully sensible) will be undertaken under the direct authority of the Imperial Parliament.

10. At the same time, it is possible that i may be mistaken as to the views and intentions of Her Majesty’s Government, and i therefore respectfully request to be instructed as to the course which i am to purse, in the event of my being advised to state in my speech from the throne, on the opening of the Provincial Legislature, that such a provision will undoubtedly form part of the Act of Union, or be embodied by the Imperial Parliament in a separate Act.

11. Such a declaration, if it were afterwards proved by facts to be erroneous, would, i Need not say, excite very general not ill-founded irritation.

12. Mr. J. A. Macdonald, a leading member of the Canadian Government, is reported to have lately used what appears to me very sensible language in connexion with this subject, to the effect that the construction of the railway was certainly not part of the Constitution (a proposition which is self-evident), and that, consequently, with many other details agreed to by the Conference, it would not be embodied in the Imperial Act, but that it was one of the conditions on which the Union was based, and must therefore be carried into effect at the earliest possible period bu the Legislature of the Federated Province. I am, however, informed that Mr. Macdonald has subsequently stated that the provisions for the construction of the railway will form part of the Imperial Act.

13. As the Legislature of this Province will meet probably in the first week of April, it is highly important that i should be enabled by that time to reply distinctly to the queries which may be put to me by my advisers and by the Legislature, whether in the event of the Federation of the British North American Provinces being accomplished, Her Majesty’s Government will be prepared to submit to the Imperial Parliament, either as a clause of the Constitutional Act, or as a separate Bill, provisions to secure the completion of the Intercolonial Railway from Riviere du Loup to Truro, within a definite time, and framed in such a manner as to preclude the possibility of any subsequent action in a contrary sense on the part of the Federal Government or Legislature.

I have, &c.


The Right Hon. Edward Cardwell, M.P.,
&c. &c. &c.

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