“Mr. Dorion’s Address”, The Globe (10 November 1864)
By: The Globe
Citation: “Mr. Dorion’s Address”, The Globe [Toronto] (10 November 1864).
Mr. DORION’S ADDRESS.
We give elsewhere to-day an address by the Hon. A. A. Dorion to his constituents, wherein he declares himself opposed to the proposed Confederation of British North America. We regret exceedingly that Mr. Dorion has felt called upon formally to take ground against the Confederation scheme. No exception can be taken to his language. He states the leading features of the policy matured by the Quebec Conference very fairly and urges his objections in courteous and temperate language. We may look in vain through his address for the violent and senseless appeals to national prejudices which have marked the discussion of the question of Confederation in the columns of l’Union Nationale, and one or two other journals. The contrast, however, is only what any one who knows Mr. Dorion would expect. We are aware that in the minds of a portion of the Lower Canadian people there exists a dread that the Confederation will work harm to their local institutions, and that therefore there is a disposition on the part of some to resist it from the start. But we know that the fear is utterly groundless, and we must deeply regret that so able and liberal-minded a man as Mr. Dorion should, as it were, formally assume the leadership of an opposition based upon such a fallacy.
Mr. Dorion objects that the Confederation scheme does not really give a federal union, but simply a disguised legislation union. This is, in other words, the doctrine of those who wish the federal tie made as weak as possible, and the local governments made as powerful and independent as possible. We may differ as to this. Some of us may wish the same union here which the secessionists claim to exist under the American constitution, while others may desire a firmer and closer alliance. But we do not think it fair to deny that either would, in the common-acceptation of the term, be a deferral union. While we go so far to preserve the autonomy of the separate Provinces, and five to the local legislatures so much real power as is proposed in the Confederation scheme, we assuredly cannot call the union anything else. Mr. Dorion objects to the possession by the central authority of the right to veto the acts of the local authorities. That right, however, will no more destroy the federal character of the constitution than does the possession of a similar veto power by the Crown in Great Britain destroy the popular character of the British system of government. In practice the one veto would probably be as little use as the other. The reason for providing the central government with such a power, is of course the possibility that the local government might sometimes be unjust to the local minority. We believe that Mr. Dorion will find that the provision of the constitution will nowhere have more friends than in Lower Canada. So long as the local authorities of any Province refrain from doing palpable injustice they will be very safe from the federal veto. The exercise of that veto, unless when the local government was clearly wrong, would be a most hazardous step, and one upon which no deferral government would venture. The penalty for an indiscreet exercise of the veto power would probably ne nothing less than an agitation which would sweep it away altogether. But, even were it otherwise, were it a likely thing that the deferral authority would frequently intermeddle, local institutions would surely be infinitely safer from unjust interference under such a system than under one which compels the government of the united Provinces always to have its voice in the local affairs of all sections.
Mr. Dorion makes much of the increased debt which Confederation involves. He reviews the arrangement by which the debts of the various Provinces are to be adjusted, and the Provinces which are free or nearly free from debt are to compensate for assuming the burdens which the joint debts of the whole will impose. We note, however, that he advances no reason for thinking that arrangement an unjust one. If the federal government is to pay the debts of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, and to have the customs revenues of Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland to do it with, we surely could not refuse compensation. The adding up of the different debts, we are bound to admit, makes […] […] […] than we now owe ; but it does not make a larger sum per head, nor a larger sum in proportion to the means of payment. The Lower Provinces are, in point of fact, heavy consumers of imported goods, and therefore, under our present system of raising revenue would be heavy taxpayers. The rural population of Lower Canada consume very little in the way of imported goods, and while the revenue is raised in great part by customs duties, they contribute but little thereto. Ten years ago it was admitted that Upper Canada was paying two-thirds of the consolidated revenue, and the disparity has much increased since. It certainly is not for Lower Canada to complain as to the financial aspects of the new arrangement. Both to the east and to the west she will have portions paying more heavily per man to the deferral treasury than she has done, or can do under the present system of indirect taxation. Nothing but free trade and direct taxation could entirely deprive her of that advantage. The allowance for local purposes, which are to be in proportion to population, are noticed by Mr. Dorion — not, however, to make the complaint, as some Lower Canada journals have done, that the allowance for Lower Canada is less than that which she manages in various ways to get now. The present system, by which local appropriations are too often a master of grab or the means of corruption, will well be superseded by a plan which will make the appropriation definite in amount, and leave the distribution to the local authorities. The amounts which it has been proposed shall be thus appropriated, though not to large as those reached by a system which has involved the country deeply in debt, are still quite sufficient to allow the local governments with proper economy to get along without resorting to taxation. The sum which will fall to Lower Canada will, it is safe to say, be quite as large as is consistent with equity to the other Provinces.
Mr. Dorion bases a rather clever argument upon the basis of representation agreed upon by the Conference. Lower Canada, he says, has always refused to give Upper Canada Representation by Population in the existing Union, although four or five additional members in our Chambers, with equality in the other, would have satisfied her, because fear was felt for the local institutions of the East. Now, however, it has been agreed not only to give Upper Canada seventeen additional members in the Assembly, but also to add forty-seven British members to that House from the Maritime Provinces, and moreover to add twenty-eight British members from the same Provinces to the Legislative Council. This, quoth Mr. Dorion, is protection to the local interests of Lower Canada. This is very ingenious, but it involves several mistakes. Four or five additional members would not satisfy Upper Canada in the existing Union. We would have taken them as an instalment of justice, and as guarantee that the whole would not be long in coming. We should sooner or later expect to get the seventeen additional members just as much in the present Union as under the federation, and along with that, provision for periodical readjustments on the basis of population in the future. The concession of four or five additional members might have carried a Government through a year or two, but Mr. Dorion is too much of a statesman to mistake that for a permanent settlement of the difficulty.
The objection to the admission of representatives from the Maritime provinces is, of course, an objection to nay union with them at all, and ought only to come from one who is for all time against union with the Maritime Provinces. In another part of his address, Mr. Dorion explicitly declares himself against all union, federal or legislative, with the Maritime Provinces, but does no more than declare such a union “premature.” If he expects the time to come when it will not be premature, how does he then propose to deal with the representative question? When they unite with us, the Lower Provinces will assuredly have representative in the united Parliament. Is it not, then, very illogical in a public man, who expects the union with the Maritime Provinces to come at a future time, and who in 1859 made it one of the advantages of the proposed Canadian federation that it would give facilities for the future extension of our union to the other Provinces, now to argue that the admission of members of Parliament from those Provinces will prove inimical to Lower Canadian interests? If that is a sound argument now it would have been a sound reply to the suggestion of a future extension of our Canadian union which Mr. Dorion and his friends made five years ago.
The position of affairs is just this : Constitutional reform must come in some form or other. We in Upper Canada were long anxious to get it within the Canadian Union as it is. We have freely assented to the scheme of Confederation as reaching the same end in a manner more acceptable to Lower Canada. If Mr. Dorion thinks he would prefer to give Representation by Population pure and simple, let him set to work to convince his countrymen that such a concession would be less dangerous, and their will be no room for cavil at his course. But he can hardly afford, in justice to himself, and in recollection of his own frequent admissions that this constitutional question must in some way be settled, to take simply negative ground in the matter.