“Legislative v. Federative Union”, The Globe (29 August 1864)

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Date: 1864-08-29
By: The Globe
Citation: “Legislative v. Federative Union”, The Globe [Toronto] (29 August 1864).
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The Montreal Gazette, in the course of an article advocating the union of the Provinces of British North America, quotes the “warning” given to Canadians by Mr. Howe in his Halifax speech:—

“Do not split Canada up again into fragments. To be a Canadian now is to be somebody. To belong to a petty half or fragment of Canada will be no honour. And by this division you will enter the wedge which has just split the great republic asunder. Will you not take warning by her example?”

Upon which our contemporary remarks:—

“Such is the view of our affairs taken by the great Acadian statesman. Advice from such a source deserves to be heeded. The Toronto Globe, speaking, we suppose not without the privity of the President of the Council, says that if any union is determined on at Charlottetown it will be a legislative one. This is doubtless the opinion derivable from contact with the leading men of the Acadian Provinces. And we believe that the tendency of public opinion in Canada also since Parliament was prorogued has been decidedly in the same direction. An absolute, complete legislative union is perhaps impossible. We are much inclined to think that it is. But reaping instructions from the pregnant example of our neighbours—Canadians and Acadians alike will infuse as little of federal principle into their union when established as will suffice to meet the absolute necessities of the case.”

The Gazette makes a mistake in its version of our statement. We did not say that if a union of the British American Provinces were agreed upon at the Charlottetown Convention, it would be a legislative union; but that the union between the Maritime Provinces would probably be of that nature. Here are the words we used:—

“As we have before explained, the business for which the Conference was originally agreed upon, is that of maturing a plan for the union of the three Maritime Provinces—a union which, if formed at all, is likely to be of a legislative character.”

We do not suppose the Gazette made the mistake wilfully; but at the same time we must remark that it has been led into a blunder which ought to have been avoided. The fact that a legislative union between the Lower Provinces is contemplated exists altogether independently of Mr. Brown, and can in no way be construed into a declaration of opinion on his part, that he favours a similar union for the whole of British North America.

As we find some misapprehension of the real position of affairs exists, perhaps it will be well to give a more detailed statement in order to clear up matters. During the last session of their respective Parliaments, the representatives of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island discussed the propriety of effecting a legislative union of the three Provinces. The proposition was received with much favour, and delegates were accordingly appointed to meet at Charlottetown for the purpose of coming to a mutual agreement if might be, such agreement of course being subject to the approval or disapproval of the several legislatures. All this was done before the crisis in Canada had resulted in the defeat of the Tache-Macdonald Cabinet. The Parliaments of the Maritime Provinces had been prorogued before the formation of the Coalition; never dreaming that the delegates they had appointed to meet in Charlottetown would be called upon to deal with the project of a federal union, or any other kind of union, with Canada. Upon the formation of the present Government here, however, in pursuance of the plan of reform marked out, it was esteemed desirable that delegates from this Province should attend at Charlottetown, and there discuss with the delegates of the Lower Provinces, a union of the whole of British North America. It is a mistake, therefore, to suppose that the gentlemen of the Maritime Provinces meet for the purpose of arranging or of attempting to arrange with Canada a union of all the Provinces. Simply and solely, their prescribed duty is to come, if possible, to a mutual understanding respecting a legislative union of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. At the solicitation of the Canadian delegates, they will doubtless widen the sphere of the discussion. But for that purpose they were not sent to Charlottetown by the legislatures to which they are responsible.

We sympathize to no little extent with the Gazette in the sentiment which runs through the concluding portion of its paragraph. We understand perfectly that it is possible to construct a federal union so weak as to be good for nothing; a union which, instead of developing a national sentiment, would bring each component part into hostile contact with its neighbours. That might be done in two ways. We might so constitute the central authority that one section would be able to tyrannise over the other, as Lower Canada now tyrannises over Upper Canada. To do so would be certain at no distant date, to result in despotism. Or we might, on the other hand, give to the local bodies such exaggerated powers, that they would be really sovereign states and the central authority a thing but in name. But we seek a middle course, as the safest and as the best and as the one most likely to lead to perfect unity. At the same time we would remind the Gazette, and all others of its way of thinking, that we have long advocated the legislative union of Upper and of Lower Canada. We wished to see the dividing line which has separated us done away with, and the Province made really one. Failing in this, we accept the proposed federal union as a most excellent alternative. But if the Gazette’s friends would have given us a legislative union, there would have been no necessity for the scheme now upon the tapis.

Speaking of the union of the whole of British North America, our contemporary thinks that “an absolute, complete legislative “union is impossible.” We agree with him; but we must go further; we think it absurd to propose it. The subject is a wide one; but one or two prime considerations at once arise to the mind, which show the untenable nature of the proposition.

In the event of a legislative union of British North America, we should have the representative from the Red River giving his vote for the regulation of the way tariff on the Provincial railways of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and the members from Cape Breton deciding on the opposing claims of Upper Canadian villages to be promoted to the rank of county towns. Some basis for Parliamentary representation would have to be found—either population, or property, or both combined. The result would be to give overwhelming power to the West. We do not ask whether that would be to our sectional advantage, as we are discussing this question from a British American point of view; but we do ask whether the Maritime Provinces would be likely long to be content with such a state of things? Is it not more than probable that questions of the nature which have created so much difficulty between Upper and Lower Canada would arise between the West and the East? If it be urged, on the other hand, that this might be prevented by an adjustment of powers, which would prevent the West doing injustice to the East, then we reply that to effect this you must either have a federal union or an arrangement similar to that which at present exists between Upper and Lower Canada, whereby the majority is placed most completely at the mercy of the minority. To the latter the West will not consent. If so unjust a constitution could for a time be forced upon it, dissolution would certainly ensue, and thus the very means employed to promote unity and nationality would create sectional difficulty in the worst form it can assume. But to a federal union the West would consent. Place local matters in the hands of local legislatures, give Provincial Governments, the power to carry out those internal improvements they may think fit, let municipal matters—we use the term in a wide sense—be regulated by the people who alone are interested in them; but vest in the central authority, so far as the divergent opinions of the different sections will permit, all matters of common interest, and a united nation is the result.

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