Edward Whelan, [Quebec Conference] (11 October 1864)

Document Information

Date: 1864-10-11
By: Edward Whelan, The Examiner (Charlottetown), Quebec Conference
Citation: Edward Whelan, “The Inter-Colonial Conference in Canada,”The Examiner (17 October 1864) and Edward Whelan, “The Inter-Colonial Conference in Canada,”The Examiner (24 October 1864).
Other formats: Click here to view the original documents (PDF), HERE and HERE.
Note: Any endnotes come from our recent publication, Charles Dumais, The Quebec Resolutions: Including Several Never-Published Preliminary Drafts by George Brown and John A. Macdonald, and a Collection of all Previously-Published Primary Documents Relating to the Conference (CCF, 2021).


TUESDAY, OCT. 11, 1864.

The Conference met at 11 o’clock precisely. The venerable President announced, on taking the Chair, that he had received a telegram from the Mayor of Toronto, inviting the Delegates from the Lower Provinces to a Public Entertainment in that City, on any day to be named by themselves. I believe the invitation will be accepted. Montreal, I understand, is preparing to give them a grand reception. They are to dine at the Vice-regal Palace, at Spencer Wood, on Thursday next. The Dinner at the Stadacona Club, last night, was a very brilliant and sumptuous affair. If the Delegates will survive the lavish hospitality of this great country, they will have good constitutions—perhaps better than the one they are manufacturing for the Confederation.

Mr. Attorney General McDonald made an able speech today, in Conference, on Federal Union. As all the deliberations are conducted with closed doors, the same as at Charlottetown, Halifax and Frederickton, I did not take notes of it. It was, I may say, without violating confidence, an argumentative and statesmanlike exposition of the views of the Canadian Ministry on the Consolidation of the British American Provinces under the Crown of England. The Hon. gentleman referred, in his speech, to a printed statement of the views of the Canadian Government, which had been circulated semi-officially, and which, having read it, I find coincides with the views enunciated by Mr. McDonald. It was prepared by one of the Canadian Ministers from Upper Canada. The following is the principal passage which bears upon the question:—

The Canadian Delegates were deeply impressed by the great material resources and the gratifying industrial prosperity of the Maritime Provinces. There is not one of them who does not subscribe heartily to the conclusion arrived at by the Conference, that a federation of all the Provinces would be highly advantageous.

Thus far nothing definite as to the details of the scheme has been agreed upon; notwithstanding the discussions of the last three weeks, every point will be open to unfettered inquiry by the Quebec Conference. No one, however, could have failed to gather from the newspapers of the Lower Provinces, the general outlines of the scheme under consideration at Charlottetown.

It appears to have been suggested that the Confederation might consist for the present of three sections—namely: Upper Canada; Lower Canada; and the Maritime Provinces, coming into the union either collectively or separately; and that provision might be made for the admission into the Union hereafter on equitable terms of the North-West Territory, British Columbia and Vancouver. The whole country might have one name, say Canada or Acadia.

It appears to have been suggested that each of the Provinces should have a Local Legislature and Executive, charged with the control of all local matters; and that in a General Legislature and Executive should be vested the control of affairs common to the whole country. It seems to have been held as indisputable that the functions of the General and Local Governments, and the subjects delegated to each, must be clearly defined in the Constitution so as to prevent collision and give security for local interests––the whole to be embodied in an act of the Imperial Parliament.

In regard to the constitution of the General or Federal Legislature, the representation in the Lower House must be based on population, and that of the Upper House on sectional equality. The mode of selecting the members of the Upper House is a fertile subject of discussion. Some favour election for a term of years by the people; others prefer to have their election vested in the Local Legislatures; while others again advocate their appointment for life by the Crown, upon the advice of the Ministry of the day. The solution may be found in a compromise of these views.

The Federal Government would be constituted as now—The Representative of the Crown being advised by an administration possessing the confidence of Parliament.

To the Federal authority thus constituted would obviously be committed all questions of Trade, Navigation, Currency, Banking, General Taxation. Bankruptcy and Criminal Law. It would have control of the Militia and Defence, of Coinage, Weights and Measures, Light-Houses, Sea-Fisheries, Letters Patent and Copyright, Naturalization, the Census, the Postal Service, Immigration, Inter-colonial Works, &c.

The manner in which the Local Legislatures should be constructed, affords scope for debate. There are those who advocate for each section two Legislative Chambers, while others prefer one Chamber. Some are for an Executive Government responsible, as at present, to the Legislature; while others are in favour of the Lieutenant Governors and other Chief Officials being elected by the people It would, of course be desirable that all the Local Governments should be constituted on some uniform plan; but this does not seem absolutely essential, in the event of serious variance of opinion arising.

As to the powers and duties to be committed to the Local Governments, there is also room for much discussion. Manifestly, however, Lower Canada will insist that all judicial and legal maters—in fact the whole body of Civil and Municipal Law, with the exception of Criminal Law—must be vested in the Local Legislatures. It is equally clear that Upper Canada and New Brunswick will contend that the wild lands of the several sections should be vested in the Local Governments. The control of Roads, Bridges and Harbours—with the exception of International Works—of Inland Fisheries, of Education, of Prisons, Hospitals and Charities, of Agriculture, and all other local matters, would naturally be committed to the Local Bodies. It has been suggested that provision should be made for the educational interests of the minority in each section.

A difficulty would manifestly arise in committing these duties to the Local Legislatures, from the absence of local revenues to meet the necessary expenditures. It has been suggested that an allowance from the Public Revenue might be distributed for Local purposes according to the population, inasmuch as the General Government will, by the federative arrangement, be relieved from charges now borne by each province, and will have absorbed all the sources of Revenue from which they are now defrayed.

It is very fortunate that little or no difficulty seems to present itself on the subject of Federal Finances. On the consummation of the union, all the debts and assets of the several Provinces would of course be assumed by the Federal Government; and a close examination of the Financial position of each Province shows that no injustice would be inflicted by this arrangement. The debt and the annual burden now borne by the people of the several Provinces are pretty nearly equal, and the Public Exchequers of all of them show a surplus.”

The Hon. Mr. Galt is now addressing the Conference, on Financial affairs generally. He is certainly thoroughly at home on dry matters of fact of this description. But we have not yet the information we desire respecting the financial affairs of Canada. Mr. Pope (who, I should have stated, is Honorary Secretary to the Conference in conjunction With the Provincial Secretaries of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick), has applied for this important information, and which I will communicate to the Examiner when I have an opportunity of doing so.

The reason for conducting the deliberations confidentially is simply this: The Conference are unanimous, I believe, regarding the desirability of the Federation; but there is great diversity of opinion touching the details; and so many absurd reports are abroad concerning these details, that the Conference deemed it best to have them settled in private, and to make the result known to the public afterwards as soon as practicable. Without presuming to violate a particle of the confidence deemed so essential to the success of the deliberations of the Convention, I will endeavour to get all the information I can for the public on the general question. In the meantime, I must say that the prospects of the future of British America are of the most encouraging description, that the destinies of all the Provinces are in safe hands; and so far as human ingenuity and human wisdom can mould them, I believe their very best interests will be promoted by the contemplated change in our Constitution.

I must close for the day. The Mail is about doing the same; and the Conference ditto. We go to a grand reception or Levee at the Parliament Buildings tonight, and let me hope that “Natures sweet restorer, balmy sleep,” will thereafter soon close one of the very few busy days yet spent in Quebec by.


No. 2

QUEBEC, OCT. 11, 1864.

Resuming my narrative at the place I left off when the last Mail for the Lower Provinces was about closing, there is only one fact to notice connected with the proceedings of the Conference today. The resolution declaratory of a desire for a Federal Union was put to the vote, and carried by acclamation, amid loud cheering. Two members were absent—Mr. Carter, of Newfoundland, owing to illness, and Mr. Whelan, of P. E. Island, preparing his letters for the Mails.[1] The Conference adjourned shortly after the vote was taken, no other business having been done.

A grand Drawing Room and Levee were held at the Parliament Buildings this evening by His Excellency the Governor General, in honor, it was understood, of the Delegates from the Maritime Provinces. There were about six hundred ladies and gentlemen presented. The whole building was brilliantly lighted up –– the Assembly Room and Council Chamber being quite gorgeous in that respect. The reception took place in the latter Chamber. His Excellency arrived at half-past eight o’clock, attended by members of his suit. The members of the Executive Council, the Lieut. Governor of Nova Scotia and his Lady, and the Delegates were the first presented. It never before occurred in any Provincial City, I think, to see so many public men assembled in one place. Whether the event will be worthy of remembrance, depends very much on the result of the Conference.

I noticed that the etiquette observed at this brilliant presentation differed from similar displays in Charlottetown, in so far as no name was announced when the person was presented. The Card of each was handed to the Aide-de-Camp in waiting—the bow was given and returned, and the party passed to one side of the Chamber. The Governor General shook hands with all whom he knew, and with all the Delegates, I believe. I felt apprehensive that the worthy gentleman would feel something like a kink in his neck the next morning from the great number of bows he had to make.[2]

[1]  The newspaper article is indeed signed “E.W.” and Whelan does claim authorship, but this section is somewhat awkward. It is possible that the editor of the Examiner authored this section of the text based on notes from Whelan.

[2] Part of the record is omitted here since it offers no substance on the topic of confederation.

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