Newfoundland, House of Assembly, Debate on Confederation (14 February 1865)
By: Newfoundland House of Assembly, The Newfoundlander
Citation: “House of Assembly (Continued)”, The Newfoundlander (16 March 1865).
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St. John’s, Thursday, March 16, 1865.
HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY.
TUESDAY, Feb. 14.
On motion of the hon. Attorney General, pursuant to order of the day, the house resolved itself into committee of the whole on the consideration of the confederation of the British North American Provinces, Mr. Knight in the chair.
Hon. Attorney General.—The resolution which he proposed to submit for the consideration of the Committee, was one which proposed to postpone until after the meeting of the next House of Assembly the consideration of the important question of the federation of the North American Colonies. The documents received by the Government on this subject had been submitted to the house at the opening of the session; and he had then given notice of certain resolutions which he intended under the directions of the Secretary of State’s despatch, to submit to the house with the view of either adopting or rejecting the report of the Quebec conference.
From the first, however, there was no idea of making this a government or party question, but to submit it as one on which the house was to pronounce a deliberate judgment after fully weighing all the considerations by which it was surrounded. He thought it objectionable, if the other colonies adopted the Union at once, that we should allow the matter to lie over, and if we afterwards decided that confederation was for our advantage, should have to knock at the door, twelve or eighteen months after the confederacy was organized, asking for what we were now entitled to accept. It appeared, however, that this winter, the other colonies, or at least some of them, would postpone the decisions of the mater; and as there was an almost unanimous a desire expressed, not only in the house, but by the public at large, from some of whom petitions had been laid before the house, that the question should here be postponed for further consideration, he had decided not to submit the resolutions he had at first designed, but to substitute that now before the committee, for the postponement of any decision upon it until after a new election had taken place, and the question had been fully discussed by the constituencies.
With regard to the history of the question of confederation, it would be doubtless in the recollection of some hon members that the late Governor General of Canada, Sir Edmund Head, in his closing address to the Legislature of that Province, had recommended it on the consideration of the members of the Legislature and of the people of the Province. He (hon A. Gen.) recollected very well the effect which that speech produced at the time. It excited considerable sensation, not only in the colonies, but also in England. I was not at all favorably viewed at the Colonial office, and a despatch was sent out, which was on the journals of the House, requesting that it should not be discussed, nor delegates appointed for its consideration, unless with the sanction of the home Government. In the course of time, however, the question came to be regarded more favourably. It was taken up in the Legislature of Nova Scotia, and certain resolutions were adopted, which the Lieutenant Governor was requested to transmit to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. These resolutions were sent out to the several colonies, with a dispatch from the late Duke of Newcastle, which was recorded on our journals, which showed a considerable change of opinion on the part of Her Majesty’s Government on that question. Nothing further was done in the matter until in 1864 resolutions were passed by the Legislatures of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, proposing a Legislative union of the maritime provinces, and authorising the appointment of delegates to consider the question.
These delegates met at Charlottetown, when delegates for the government of Canada attended, and after there had been some discussion of the question of the proposed Legislative union, the Canadian delegates suggested in place of it the larger question of a federal union of the provinces, which met the approval of the Conference; and it was decided to meet at Quebec for its consideration, and that an invitation should be sent to the government of this colony to send delegates to the conference at Quebec. Hon members would have learnt from the papers laid on the table of the house the course adopted by the government. The question had not been under the consideration of the Legislature, but they considered that in a matter of so much importance, it was their duty to respond to the invitation and appoint delegates to the conference, with instructions to consider and discuss the propositious [sic] that might be submitted to the Conference, but to do nothing committing this Colony. In accordance with the course adopted in the other Colonies, and as the most fitting in itself, as this was not a party question but one affecting materially the interests of the whole people, delegates were appointed from the two parties represented in that House, the hon the Speaker, from the government side, and the hon member tor Placentia and St. Mary’s, Mr. Shea, a leading member of the opposition.
The delegates met at Quebec on the 10th of October, and the conference was in session for some weeks, and the result of their deliberations was the report laid on the table of the house. It had been said that the delegates from this Colony, not being appointed by authority of the Legislature, had no right to sign the report; and that in consequence of the report being signed by all the delegates, the Colonial Secretary had sent out his dispatch signifying his approval of the repeat. He (hon Attorney General) did not concur in that view. The delegates from this island, having very properly taken part in the proceedings of the conference, and approving of the resolutions adopted, he conceived that they acted properly in signing the report, which was nothing more than certifying the resolutions.
And as to the observation that the Colonial Secretary was misled, the hon members who were of that opinion were entirely mistaken. The Colonial Secretary, from the correspondence which had taken place between this Government and that of Canada, and which was transmitted to him before the Conference met, was fully aware of the limited authority of the Delegates from this Colony, and of the instructions under which they acted, and could not have been misled or influenced in this respect, as the hon member for Ferryland, Mr. Glen, supposed. It had also been objected that the Delegates, after their return, neglected to convene public meetings for the discussion of the question, as was done in some of the other colonies. He (hon Attorney General) did think that it would be highly improper for any officers of the Government, as the Delegates were to adopt such a course. They were not delegates from any popular body.
They reported to the government, and it was not to the people, but to the Legislature, as representing the whole of the people of the colony, that the report should be submitted for to them they were responsible. There was nothing in the conduct of the delegates, from the beginning to the end of the proceedings, but what was not only unexceptionable, but most commendable. They discharged their duty in such a manner in the opinion of those best capable of judging, the ablest men of the other provinces, as to have reflected the highest credit on themselves and on the colony they represented. With respect to the report of the conference, it was a matter of satisfaction that for months past it had undergone such full discussion that we are all familarised [sic] with its conclusions. It was the result of the delibereations [sic] of the ablest men in the provinces, upon a question of the highest importance which had occupied public attention in the other provinces for years.
The report had been transmitted to Her Majesty’s Government, and, after mature consideration, a dispatch was transmitted expressing a general approval of the decision arrived at by the conference. The question had been fully discussed by the public and in the mother country, in the other provinces, and in this colony and by statesmen on both sides of the Atlantic; and there was now very little new left for him to say on the subject. He did not intend to go into the statistics of the question, nor to recapitulate the arguments previously used by other and abler writers and speakers upon the subject; but having to vote upon it, he considered it necessary to state the reasons which influenced his mind in coming to a conclusion upon a subject of such grave importance, a vote upon which, either one side or the other, cast so great a responsibility upon those with whom the adoption, or rejection of this project would rest. He recollected that, seven or eight years ago, when the question was first mooted by the Governor General, he (hon A. Gen) did not view it very favourably.
It appeared to him, upon a merely passing consideration, to involve an increase of expediture [sic] for a general government and local governments and legislatures, without as he then apprehended, any corresponding advantage. But when it come before him as a practical question, upon which serious action was to be taken, and be came to view it in its relation not merely to the present circumstances of this colony, but also in regard to the future, he found that he had made a very great mistake in regarding it as a question of which the decision was to be influenced entirely by pecuniary considerations. On the contrary, it involved numerous important considerations of a social, political, moral and commercial character, requiring the closest attention. It was one that should be studied under the lights of history and experience, and with a regard to all those circumstances, that tended to promote he wealth of nations and the progress and prosperity of a people, and the welfare [sic], moral, political, and social of society.
And although, in some respects, in having relation to the future, the question must be regarded as somewhat of a speculative character, yet here, as in private life, where our future conduct is necessarily so often determined by speculative reasoning based on what we believe to be subsisting facts, we might come to a conclusion very satisfactory and convincing to our minds, without being able to transfer that conviction to the minds of others with all the certainty of mathematical demonstration or the unanswerable logic of a sum in arithmetic. And viewing this question with regard to the considerations to which he had referred, looking at it in every light, and taking into account all that had been spoken and written against it, he had arrived at the conclusion that the proposed Confederation should by all means be entered into; as he subscribed most heartily to the sentiment expressed in the first paragraph of the report of the Convention, that such an union would largely promote the welfare and advantage of all the Colonies.
A consideration that powerfully influenced his mind with regard to this proposal, was the contrast that might fairly be instituted between what Newfoundland now was and what she might be under Confederation. At present we were an insignificant fishing settlement, with a population of a hundred and twenty or a hundred and thirty thousand, with no resources at present available beyond our fisheries and those insufficient for the support of our people, a large proportion of whom were dependent for four months in the year upon pauper relief supplied from the public revenue. These fisheries evidently, if not declining, at least not increasing in productiveness with our increasing numbers, and for sometime past furnishing very inadequate support to those engaged in their prosecution.
And supposing the fisheries to improve, and that we should have the average prosperity of the past still such improvement merely sufficed for the comfortable maintenance of the people for the time, and offered no means of supporting any great increases [sic] of our present numbers, even if our mineral resources turned out as productive as we hoped; so that we could have no prospect of becoming anything but a small colony, of little influence or power in any respect, and of no note, importance, or consideration, which, should the protection of Great Britain be withdrawn, must fall a prey to the first power that might chose to take possession of the Island. Was that a state which it could be satisfactory to ourselves, or to those who might come after us to contemplate?
On the other hand, what might we be under confederation? We were invited to join a Confederation which, in half a century, would be second to no power on the face of the earth, with a population, at present numbering four millions, stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and which would number fifty millions within the life time of some of our children; with a country abounding with resources, such as could not fail, in the hands of an energetic people, to place us in the first rank amongst the nations of the earth,—a Confederation whose commerce would cover every sea, whose flag would be respected in every quarter of the globe, and which should take place in the great family of nations, second to none, in influence, in wealth, in power, in resources, in all that tended to illustrate and magnify the position and standing of a people. When he (hon A. Gen.) contrasted this with, Newfoundland out of the confederation, with its 130,000 inhabitants subsisting by the fisheries on its cost, and the limited mineral resources which the island was known to possess, be considered it was a duty we owed to ourselves and to posterity to accept the invitation extended to us.
True, these considerations were not such matters as could be measured by pounds, shillings and pence. Nevertheless they were such as powerfully influenced nations as well as individuals, in their ordinary conduct. There were other things of value in this life for both, besides dollars and cents; and as in private life were found individuals ready to pay for rank, station and influence, so among nations, the last shilling in the exchequer would be expended, and the last man sent to fight, with the object of maintaining the national honor and preserving the character and position of the commonwealth, When, therefore, we turned to the consideration of great national questions, such as this was, surely there were other matters to be regarded besides the mere pecuniary aspect of the matter. But the British Government regarded the union as a matter which, with this object, we ought to go into. It was will then, that we should consider the consequences of opposing their wishes in this matter. The question of the defence of the colonies was one which had undergone a good deal of discussion of late years, and many statesmen were of opinion that the colonies cost Great Britain more than they were worth; and maintained that it was high time that we should do something for our own defence. But it should not be overlooked that the question for our consideration was not whether we should go into the confederation or remain as we are at present—but whether the confederation being formed, as it undoubtedly would be, by the other provinces, we were prepared to take he consequences of remining out of it.
He (hon A. Gen.) spoke without other means of information than were open to all, but he did say that looking at the dispatches from Her Majesty’s Government, the part they had taken in this matter, the debates in Parliament, the articles in semi-official organs at home, and the speeches and writings of leading statesmen and writers in England, it was too plain in his judgement, for controversy, that Great Britain would require the colonies to contributed to their own defence, to a much greater extent than they had hitherto done; and that was nothing but what was reasonable; and a few years ago dispatches were received on the subject, expressing the opinions of statesmen at home, which the British Government regarded as a matter which ought to be carried out; and he would ask, if we were called upon in this colony, could we refuse? It must be recollected that our admission to responsible government was as part of the North American Colonies. It was conceded to us, because it had been previously granted to the other provinces; not simply because we were fit for it, but because we came within a principle, which, having been applied to the other North American colonies, must also be applied to us.
Now supposing confederation carried out, and that the other provinces went into it and made the suggested provision for the defence of the confederated provinces; and that we remained out, in what light would we be regarded by the government and people of England? They would take no interest in us, because we would be outside the confederated provinces, subject in our management to wholly different principles, and would be regarded as a people whose interest were of very little concern, and who, having thrown away the advantages offered to them, could be worked upon oily as wilful and wayward children. And what, then, could we expect, but that we should be handed over to some subordinate at the Colonial office, to receive very little of that attention which we now experience. We might find, in time, the ships of war now employed for our defence sent elsewhere, and the troops stationed here withdrawn; and attention given to those who were more careful to comply with the wishes of the British Government. It must be recollected that we had pledge ourselves to contribute to our own defence; a resolution to that effect was recorded on our journals some sessions ago, in reply to a dispatch from the home government. Now that was a serious matter, if we should resolve to remain in our present isolation. He (hon A. Gen.) recollected the time when a whole regiment was considered necessary for our protection, and two or three ships of war. We would undoubtedly require something more than a few volunteer companies, and hon members who said so much about increased taxation, should recollect that the cost of a single regiment involved a far larger expenditure than Canada would take from us; and that would be the necessary consequence of standing out against confederation.
It had been stated that Great Britain would never abandon Newfoundland, on account of her geographical position. This seemed a whim a childish delusion. If Newfoundland was of so much importance, why was it not made a naval station, in preference to pestilence striken [sic] Bermuda, and Halifax, which had always been naval stations? While immense sums were expended on the citadel [sic] at Halifax, so as to render is impregnable, this place was neglected, and only two or three forts defending the narrows repaired, to render them tenable, and Armstrong guns placed in them. Halifax had a capacious harbor, not liable to be closed by ice, and situated within 12 hours by steam of one entrance to the gulf of St. Lawrence and and [sic] 18 hours of the other, and within 12 hours of the United States; and the harbor of Louisburg, which was also free from ice, was situated between the two entrances to the Gulf. It was folly to talk of the advantages of our position, situated about 600 miles away from the probable scene of action, as compared with Halifax or Louisburg—If we were considered of so much importance to Great Britain, why was there so little expended on our fortifications? And of whatever importance we might now be to Great Britain, when the confederation of the colonies was carried out what would our importance then be?
If we declined to enter into the confederation we would not be longer regarded by the other Colonies as a sister colony, but as one which had declined complying with the recommendation of the parent state, and refused all association with them, We should have no claim upon their sympathy or support, should we be threatened with an other French convention, and their markets would be closed to on produce by prohibitory duties. The opponents of confederation had been asked, again and again what our position would be, separated [sic] from the confederation, and no satisfactory reply had been given. As to the question—what were the in material advantages of confederation; it seemed to him (hon A. Gen) that there were in any.
With regard to our public men, it opened up a field worthy of their ambition. Let the hon member for Ferryland, Mr. Gen, consider the enlarged sphere of advancement which confederation opened up to him, if sent up as a member to the House of Commons, where talent must take the lead whether it came from Newfoundland or Vancouver; and where he would have an opportunity, one day, of discussing some important question affecting the interests of Columbia, and on another, one involving those of New Brunswick, while on a third those of the great Saskatchewan valley would be taken up; and the compensation, when, his talents and experience placed his services in demand as a minister of the Crown, would be in proportion to the importance of his position; while the height of his ambition in Newfoundland was to be Receiver General, at 4,500 a-year.
At the same time he might have an opportunity of benefiting his Newfoundland constituents and the Island generally, by the promotion of extensive public works, while at present he was laudably endeavouring to promote the interests of the fishermen by urging the construction of a breakwater at T[texting missing]’s Cove. Was it no object to many in public life to have such prospects as this before them?—Surely it should stimulate the youth of the country to have the prospect before them of attaining to a position in public life, such as none of the colonies could offer while they continued in their present fragmentary condition. Surely there was something more elevating and enabling in such prospects than the narrow party struggles of our present colonial politics could offer. But it was not merely to politicians that confederation offered a field worthy of their ambition.
It must benefit young men in all the professions. They had before them an enlarged field for their exertions, and proportionally larger prizes to stimulate these exertions in the professions of law and medicine. And it must be supposed that, in the course of time, there would be an army and an navy, in which our youth would have an opportunity of rising to eminence. And while his hon friend the member for Ferryland might be Home Minister or Receiver General of Canada, why might not the hon and gallant member for St. John’s West attain the rank of Field Marshal Renouf? It would give a stimulous [sic] to the exertions of our young men in all the professions; taking excelsior as their motto, they would press forward in every art and science, and ultimately many would attain an eminence to which few in the Colonies at present aspired. Than as to the commercial advantages of confederation. Look at our herring fishery, for instance, at present languishing. Was it nothing to have such a market as Canada which in a few years would take all we could produce? Her own population, in place of being our rivals in the fisheries would find more congenial and more profitable employment in the cultivation of her prolific soul, exchanging her produce for those of our fisheries, was there nothing in this, that we had a country before us to go to, if we could not find congenial occupation here. And if when Canada was carrying out large public works we were united with her, was it to be assumed that none of these would be constructed here. And would not those carried out elsewhere afford employment to many of our citizens and labourers?
Take, for instance, the extension of the Grand Trunk Railroad from Canada to the harbor of Halifax. Would not many of our people go to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and find employment upon that important national work? And would not this relieve the fisheries from he pressure of a surplus? Did we not know that bands of Irish reapers, crossed the Channel every year, and cut down the harvests of England and the South of Scotland, while many of the Scottish highlanders found similar employment in the midland counties, and both carried home ample wages, which added materially to the comforts of the succeeding winter? We must remember that one of the results of confederation would be increased communication with the different provinces, of the confederacy. It might be said that the provinces, were open to our people now, but the work was not there now. Nor were they open in the same way as they would be when we became one people. There were some who now went to the other colonies and succeeded, but they were those who conquested [sic] difficulties. Certain travellers in the interior of Africa lately found a Scotchman there occupying an important position under one of the kings of Abysinia [sic]. Natives of the British islands were to be found making their way occasionally in Turkey, China, and other foreign countries, but these were the few exceptions of men of extraordinary ability and enterprise, who would push their way any where and in spite of all obstacles. But what would they find if the other colonies and this were one country?
Our people, under confederation would pass from one country to another, as they now come from the outports to St. John’s. And our shares of the general revenue remaining for public works would doubtless be expended in this Colony, and afford employment to our people. Would not the union of the provinces induce such intercourse as to give sufficient employment to the proposed line of steamers between this port and Canada; and would not that give facilities and offer inducements for travelling, increasing our social intercourse with each other largely; and would not that be to our advantage, and would the commercial intercourse thereby promoted be of no benefit, if capitalists were induced to visit us, and engage in working our mines, or establishing manufactures? Why should not a citizen of Quebec in place of going to work the copper mines at Lake Superior, come to this island, which was less distant then Lake Superior, while the facilities from sending the ore to market were much greater? Now he had to come to a foreign country, whose laws were different from those of Canada. But make both the same country, and it would be merely a question of profit and private preference. It had been said, as regards Canada, that we would derive the same advantages commercially, from free trade between the colonies as from a union. While the advantages would be limited, under a free trade treaty, we could have no guarantee for their permanency.
A treaty between the two colonies might be terminated at any time by the caprice of either party, while a union with Canada would be permanent. It had been stated that seeing the proposals for confederation arose from the strife of parties in Canada, the same difficulties might again occur, and we would be involved in them. But no such consequences could arise from confederation; and the working of the union could not be disturbed while it continued in existence. Another consequence of confederation would be our greater security from foreign aggression. It was said we might expect the protection of Great Britain to be continued under any circumstances. He had referred to the conditions to be exacted from us in this respect, but while it might be a question how we would stand with Great Britain if we kept out of the confederation, there could be no question that if we were into it we would have the protection of Great Britain and of the confederation also, and these two in close alliance, after a few years at all events, could withstand the world in arms. But then, we were told of the heavy military expenditure to which we would be subject. But only a very moderate military expenditure would be required at first, and why should we not have both an army and a navy when we gained strength and the ability to maintain them without their being burdensome to the country?
Let us recollect also that as we often suffered from the fluctuations to which our fisheries expose us, and our people are sometimes reduced to extreme destitution, if we contribute to a common treasury, and if poverty, from the failure of the fisheries, overtake our people, there will be means available for warding off starvation. At present we have at the same time, wide spread poverty and reduced means for its relief, and we cannot apply to the neighbouring colonies, to whose treasuries we contributed nothing in our prosperity; and if we applied to Great Britain, we would be referred to our own resources. But if we were one people, we could go to Canada and ask relief for our impoverished population from the common treasury. Then, if we looked to the history of other countries, where small communities had become united into powerful states, we would find something in the light which history threw on this question. He (hon Attorney General) Bad always been of opinion that there could be no question of history being in favour of confederation. In this house, for the first time, he had heard that position questioned. It did seem to him, however, that history was favourable to the union of […]
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[…] small states into larger. But he would not take a wide field to sustain his views, nor would he go across the Atlantic to find example, it was not long since Nova Scotia and Cape Breton were separate Provinces; and every one who knew the history of these Provinces, knew they had advanced more rapidly since the union than they did in the same length of time when separated.
About twenty years ago, a few residents in Cape Breton got up an agitation for a dissolution of the union, but it was frowned down by the thinking people throughout the Province. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were at one time united, and subsequently separated, and the statesmen of both Provinces were so satisfied of the advantages of their being reunited, that a conference was held at Charlottetown last summer to devise the means for a legislative union of these Provinces and Prince Edward Island, which was terminated by the proposition from Canada for the more extensive union now under consideration. If, however, all this can be said in favour of confederation, what has been urged on the other side? Confederation, like all questions involving great changes, and affecting important interests, had met considerable opposition, and it was well that it should be so, for it was not desirable to change, except for some great advantage, and the more such a matter was opposed, the more thoroughly would its details be examined. Some opposed confederation, doubtless, from interested motives, either because they saw in it pecuniary loss to themselves, or a lessening of their personal, social, or political importance, some doubtless, from conscientious motives. He (hon Attorney General) did not mean to attribute interested motives to any of those who differed from him, but their existence ought not to be overlooked, and every objection should be carefully weighed, and, if possible, removed. If this were not practicable, and should well-founded objections preponderate, the union should be abandoned.
He (hon Attorney General) would briefly refer to the objections urged against the proposed confederation. It had been objected, that in going into the union, we were giving up our independence—our right to independent legislation. Every savage entering society gave up a portion of his independence, but did he lose by the change? True, if we went into confederation, we would give up a portion of our present control of our affairs. But he did think that we would be well quit of it. What was the history of this colony since we had a local Legislature? It was not one on which we could look with satisfaction. Why, since 1832 we were violently agitated, every four years, with party strife, aggravated by the rancour of religious differences; and our representatives came together excited by the bitterest feelings towards each other. And after they met, the object of one party in that House was to hold on to office, and of the other to turn them out; and, in the nearly equal division of parties which prevailed, it was found that neither the one party nor the other could do much for the promotion of the public good. If the strife of parties should have a narrower scope and have less bitterness, as the objects contended for would have less importance, from the concession of power to be made to the general government, would it not be a great benefit to the community?
On the other hand, if we gave up some power which we at present held, would we not nave an equivalent in the shire we should receive in the general government? Another objection urged against going into a Confederation with Canada, was that she had a local debt of over sixty millions of dollars, which the confederation must assume. But of what importance was that debt, as compared with the resources of that magnificent province? If she had a large debt, she had the public works for the construction of which the greater portion of it was incurred. Our debt could not be diminished; and what had we to represent a large portion of it, but the pauperism resulting from the failure of our fisheries? But, it is said, we would be subject, by the union to a large increase of taxation. He did not intend to go into the question of the tariff. He would leave that to those who had studied that part of the subject more particularly, and were more competent to deal with it than he was.
He would, however, make one or two general observations upon this point. In the first place, much use had been made, on the other side, of a Customs’ return showing that the Canada tariff was, in many aspects, higher than our own, and was one which, if applied to us, would, as alleged, increase our taxation 30 or 40 per cent. and it had been said in argument, with reference to the return,—”See how much more you will pay for this article, and how much more for that.” With as little reason and logical force might he (hon A Gen) take up the same return, and pointing to the other articles, say,—”See how much less, under confederation, you will ply for some other articles, your grog, for instance, you will get for little or nothing. You will pay no duty on lines, twines and fishery materials, £c..” But in truth, neither one side nor the other of such an argument, affected the point really at issue. He considered that nothing, or or [sic] against the union, could be drawn from contrasting the tariff of the two countries, and for this plain reason, that the Canada tariff, being framed for Canada alone, was wholly inapplicable, in many particulars, to the very different commercial interests of the lower provinces; and the first thing which the united Legislature would have to attend to, would be to frame such a tariff (very different from the present) as would suit the general interest, and not the trade of Canada alone.
It seemed to him, therefore, to be a waste of time to discuss the effect of the existing tariffs on this question. Further, let it be noticed, on the question of increased taxation under the union, that as by the rapid growth of the other provinces in population and wealth, the area of taxation would increase rapidly year by year, and as (the expense of governing 20,000 people being very little more than that of governing 10,000) the taxation would not increase with the numbers of the tax-payers, the actual burden ot taxation, on each individual, would year by year, be lessening. In this advantage we should share, not by our own growth, but by the growth of the other provinces, so that, under this union, we would have this result, which we could never have out of it, namely, that the larger it became, the more would the burden of taxation be lessened to out stationary population, to be, spread over the increasing population of the sister colonies. Let the clamourers about increased taxation ponder over this a little.
Further he (hon A Gen) would ask, having regard to the present condition of this colony, with is debt in spite of the most rigid economy on the part of the government, increasing, year by year, how long it will be, remaining as we are, before our own tariff rises to the highest figure of that of Canada. We must pay our debts, and pay the necessary cost of government, support our starving poor, and sustain the public credit, with what means (our present revenue being insufficient) but by increased taxation? It has been rising for years past. It is now 11 1/2 pet cent., and is yet insufficient. How long will it us before, of our own accord, and from sheer necessity, we lay on our people duties beyond what our most excited alarmists fear from the union? On the other hand, supposing, for the sake of argument, that we do pay more duties under the union than we are at present subjected to, of what importance will that be to our people, it, as we assume, by the opening of other fields ot labour, and by means of the older advantages to spring to them from the union, their ability to hear further taxation is increased in an equal or greater proportion? Will we not, in effect, benefit by the change? To put this idea in figures, what did it matter to a man if you increased his taxation 5 per cent., if, at the same time, you increased the value of his labour 10 or 15 per cent? But supposing further, the Canadian tariff of 20 per cent., retained on the importation of manufactured goods, as was feared by the anti-confederates, was it to be supposed that the same amount of duty would be received as would now be produced by that rate of duty?
No such thing. The effect would be a change of trade, not increased taxation paid by our people. In place of British manufactures, they would use articles produced in Canada and the other provinces, where they now manufactured extensively, and which manufactures would be largely imported here, and would pay no duty at all. At present our merchants imported British manufactured goods to suppl your wants; but, under confederation, they would find it to their advantage to import from Canada, by which our people would be very much benefited, by being supplied, at a lower price, with articles as good, and sometimes very much better than those they get now. Those of our merchants whose capital was employed in the manufacture or importation of British goods, would, for a time, suffer by the change, but the people at large would benefit, and we are here to legislate, not for the benefit of the few, but of the many, doing no unnecessary damage, nevertheless, to any interest in the community. It had been objected that Canada imports largely of manufactured goods from England. But for the same reason that the wealthy citizens of London wore French kid gloves, French silks and such like foreign articles, at a higher price than the better articles manufactured at home; and he did not think the importation of British manufactured goods into Canada, to the extent of 15 or 16 millions of dollars, was very large after all for a population of about three millions, especially when we took into consideration what went over the border, on account of the tariff of the United States being so much higher than that of Canada. It was idle to suppose that there should be such extensive manufactures in Canada, unless the people consumed the goods. We knew they manufactured largely.
He (hon A. Gen) would say that it seemed to him treating this important matter in a very unworthy way, to limit it to our present circumstances. We were legislating for future generations, for all time to come, for posterity principally; and it was a contracted view to take of such a question, to raise objections to the existing tariff of Canada, which might change from year to year, and was a consideration of so temporary a character; and he must say, moreover, that he deprecated the tone and manner in which the motives and the conduct of our Canadian friends had been treated by those opposed to the union. They had, in the most open and candid manner, stated their own desire for confederation and their reasons for it. They concealed nothing, but placed the proposal on the broad ground that the scheme would be for the advantage of the other provinces as well as of the Canadas. We had the assurance of the Governor General, referred to in his Excellency’s speech, that there was no desire on the part of the Canadian ministry to fasten their tariff upon us. And yet the Canadian advocates of confederation had been spoken of as being influenced solely by a desire to get hold of this fine Island, and turn it and its valuable resources and wealthy population to their own profit and advantage by means of the proposed union.
Certainly if these were the feelings with which we are to regard our Canadian brethren, the less we have to do with them the better. But he (hon A. Gen) did not feel so. He regarded the proposal for a union in the same light as in private life he would regard the offer of partnership, upon fair and legitimate terms, from a wealthy and influential firm, of high character, unlimited resources, large means and extensive credit, to a small trader living in his neighbourhood, without any prospect of becoming anything beyond a small trader, but whose alliance was sought simply because the latter had some advantages of position, water privileges, or the like, which the other desired. In the present case we were the small trader, Canada the wealthy, prosperous one, and as in private life, such an offer would be accepted with alacrity, so should we gladly accede to the proposal now made to us. It had been objected that Canada would draw us into war with the United States.
If Canada should be drawn into war, we knew that whether we had confederation or not, we could not avoid taking part in it, for it would be a war between Great Britain and the United States, in which all the colonies would be involved. It was said that Canada had an extensive frontier which it would require a large force to defend. But if Canada had an extensive frontier, that of her neighbour was equally extensive, and it would soon be a question which was the stronger. It we looked to the history of Canada we would find how she on former occasions held her own against great odds; and we all knew that she was prospering more rapidly in population and material property than the adjoining States of the neighbouring republic. He would again observe that we are not legislating merely for the present, but for future generations; and we know that a few years would place Canada on an equality, in this respect, with her southern neighbour; and in connection with this branch of the subject it should not be forgotten that we would under it be much better able to resist successfully the encroachments of France upon our fishing grounds than we are at present.
Now we dare not even arrest a French craft trespassing on our waters lest the act should excite the ill-will of our allies. Under confederation what would hinder our strictly enforcing our treaty rights with that nation? It was objected that the details in the terms of Confederation ware not such as were in some respects satisfactory. No document ever drawn up could be regarded as perfect; but it seemed to him that there would be a difficulty in arranging terms that on the whole would be less objectionable. As to the question of taxation, it could not be shown that a high tariff of duties would be more acceptable to the people of Canada, New Brunswick or Nova Scotia, than to those of this colony; and as to the appropriation of the revenue for objects of public utility, we would all be represented in the Federal House of Commons, as each separate district in Newfoundland was in the House of Assembly of this colony, where we could not give a shilling to one district but all the others claimed an equal share. So we would be represented in both branches of the Federal Legislature where our representatives would look out for the interests of Newfoundland.
It should be recollected that the General Government would be composed of representatives of Canada and all the other provinces and colonies of the Confederation, and that they would feel board to consult the wishes and to promote the prosperity of all. He believed these statesmen would deal fairly with us as they expected we should do with them. The report of the conference showed an amount of political sagacity and judgment which must satisfy us that the statesmen from whom it emanated were men of no common minds; and he would be slow indeed to find fault with the resolutions. Objection had been taken to the phase in the representation allowed to us. But the representation was based on a fair principle. Was it unfair that we should have a small representation when our numbers would not entitle us to more? Would a confederation based on injustice in this particular be likely to be permanent?
As to the division of the funds drawn from our revenue, the general government assumed a certain portion of our expenditure and took the whole of our Customs’ revenue, and in return they gave us an annual allowance which was larger than the average of what we had for years past, applicable to the branches of expenditure which we were to continue to bear. It was objected that this revenue would not increase with our increasing population. But we received an amount which was adequate to all our wants. And was it not better that we should have a certain allowance from the general funds, which would not fall, than to have to depend upon a revenue liable to such fluctuations [sic] as we experienced at present; and supposing our population were to increase, it must be from new sources of employment, which would create additional wealth, and there would be a corresponding reduction in certain portions of our expenditure. But supposing that our revenue should not be sufficient tho [sic] meet an emergency, and that we required a larger amount, had we not the general government and Legislature to appeal to?
Mr. Glen.—But they said the confederate government would give a specific sum, and no more; for whatever more we might require we must resort to direct taxation,
Hon. Attorney General.—Yes, as a general rule, it was so; but if any special emergency arose, we might fairly go to them, and our claim would, there can be no doubt, be favorably considered. It was objected that the General Government and Legislature were invested with large powers of taxation. But how could a confederation be formed without such powers? How could we form a confederation which we expected to be permanent, and to become, in the course of time, large and powerful, without such powers of taxation? Large powers were necessary to sustain national existence. Some exigency might arise, when, for the preservation of our nationality, great efforts must be made, and the exercise of extensive powers resorted to. Lastly, there was a consideration of much importance, which must not be overlooked in the discussion of this object. It had already been put in this House, in the shape of a question, but it had received no satisfactory reply—What did those who opposed confederation—who were disposed to reject the advantages now offered to them, propose as the means whereby they would, in the absence of Confederation, raise the country from its present depression? Were they prepared to take the helm, and find means and ways by which our people were to be elevated from poverty and demoralization to comfort and independence [sic]? Look at our present position. Struggle as we may, even with a fair revenue, we cannot keep from going into debt every year for our current expenditure.
This past year, the casualty of a North East wind blowing for a few weeks in the spring of the year occasioned us a debt of nearly £4,000. It was answered:—”Oh let us have good fisheries, and we are all right.” But in the first place, who is to command these good fisheries, and secondly, suppose we ad them, what does the history of the colony show? That when we had good fisheries, we never laid by for a rainy day, or paid off a shilling of debt; but, on the contrary, got deeper into debt every year, whether, the fisheries were bad or good. The best that could happen to us was an alternation of series of good and bad fisheries. And what would be the result of this, judging from experience? As time rolled on, our debt increasing year by year, white our resources were diminishing, and a third of our population, for a third of the year, were in a starving condition. The end of all this it was not difficult to discover— certain, inevitable national bankruptcy; and if so, where was the hope, in our present isolated state, for the future of Newfoundland? Go into confederation, and these evils are, to a great extent, certainly mitigated; and, as we contend, prospects are held out to us and our children of a state of things raised far, in every respect, socially, politically and commercially, above our present condition.
It has been said—”Better bear the ills we have than change for others that we know not of,” and that by entering into confederation, it might be “out of the frying pan into the fire.” But this is a mistake of those who say thus. We are in the fire already; and unless we make a desperate effort for our own relief, we shall shortly have nothing of us remaining but a heap of ashes. He (hon A Gen) did see nothing before the country, if this proposal was rejected. He said it to the house and he said it to the country. That was not a matter for the present time, but for the future. Nations did not grow to maturity in a few years. Generations passed away before the result of changes came to maturity. But that confederation would come, and it was for us now to consider it; and he did say that as he would not hesitate to embark in it all he was worth himself, so he would recommend the same course to others. We had not had many years of legislation, and while we had the opportunity, it appeared to him that it was a duty we owed to the country to take advantage of the offer now made to us, and to embrace, a change which, in his judgment, would lead on to fortune.
Mr. Shea—Did the hon gentleman mean, when he spoke of the large powers of taxation reserved to the General Government, that they could resort to direct taxation?
Hon. Attorney General –Certainly. The power was necessary, it should be, where the constitution was a written one. It was a power the exercise of which might be essential to the very existence of the confederation. But as it was also reserved to the local Legislatures as a means for the defrayal of their local expenses, it was evident, he thought, except perhaps in the matter of excise on spirits, which might be regarded as part of the Customs’ laws, it was a power to be exercised by the General Government only in extreme cases. The hon gentleman then moved the following resolution:—
Resolved,—That having under their serious and most deliberate consideration the proposal for the formation of a Federal Union of the British North American Provinces, upon the terms contained in the Report of the Convention of Delegates held at Quebec on the 10th October last,—the Despatch of the Right Honorable the Secretary of State for the Colonies, dated Dec. 3, 1864—the observations of His Excellency the Governor in relation to this subject in his opening Speech of the present Session—and the Report of the Newfoundland Delegates, this Committee are of opinion, that having regard to the comparative novelty and very great importance of this project, it is desirable that, before a vote of the Legislature is taken upon it, it should be submitted to the consideration of the people at large—particularly as the action of the other Provinces does not appear to require that it should be hastily disposed of and as (the present being the last Session of this Assembly) no unreasonable delay can be occasioned by this course; and they therefore recommend that a final determination upon this important subject be deferred to the next meeting of the Legislature.
Mr. Kent rose with great pleasure to second the resolution which the hon Attorney General had just proposed. Nothing could be fairer than that resolution. It was in perfect accordance with, the views of the mercantile body and the desire of the people of this town as expressed in the petition which had been presented to this house. That certainly was the most important question that had over been brought before that legislature, and it carried, would result in a political and governmental revolution. That resolution in question reminded him (Mr. Kent) of an anecdote he once read of an old Quaker lady who said that there were three things in this world which she could never understand. The first was why little boys threw stones at the apple trees to bring down the apples, when if they only waited until the apples were ripe they would drop of the trees; the second was why people should persist in going to war to be killed, when if they remained at home, they would certainly die in due course; and the third was why young gentlemen should run after young ladies, when it they only waited, the young ladies would run after them. (Laughter.)
Now the spirit of the resolution was in perfect accordance with the theory of the Quaker lady, Our adhesion to confederation was a foregone conclusion, and only required time definitely to settle it. He (Mr. Kent) felt that it was impossible for him to elaborate this subject in the masterly manner in which the hon Attorney General treated it. The learned Premier had brought to bear on this question the stores of a richly cultivated mind, and the result of the study and reflection which he had bestowed upon it, he had this day given to this House. And he (Mr. Kent) must say that an abler discourse he never listened to. It was creditable to the people that they had taken this normal view of the great question, and to see they did not give up the advantage they possessed for that which they regarded as entirely theoretical and not calculated to ameliorate the condition of the country. He (Mr. Kent) was perfectly satisfied with this delay. It would enable the question to be more closely, investigated by the community at large, and he had no doubt that the fears which seemed to be at present entertained would disappear, [text missing] the mist before the morning sun. It was not fair to argue this question as if there w is no change in our condition. Our relative condition, and connection with the mother country was greatly altered.
If we refused to enter into this confederation, would we not have the in difference of the mother country, on one side, and the antipathy of the Federal Union on the other? And then, when we were met, as we assuredly would be, by a hostile tariff in their ports, what would be our condition? Their strength would be our weakness. In 1861 there was a select committee appointed by the Imperial Parliament, to enquire and report upon the military expenditure of the Colonies, and in the evidence taken before it, Mr. Gladstone recorded the following opinion: “I would almost venture to say, without speaking of cases in which circumstances are altogether peculiar, that no community which is not primarily charge with the ordinary business of its own defence, is really, or can be, in the full sense of the word, a free community. The privilege of freedom and the burdens of freedom are absolutely associated together; to bear the burden is as necessary as to enjoy the privilege, in order to form that character which is the great ornament of all freedom itself.” Here was an opinion that it was necessary for the preservation of its freedom, that every country should pay for its own military defences. Surely the military defences of Canada ought not to frighten us, especially when we reflected on her almost boundless resources, and mercantile wealth. But the retention of the colonies by the parent state since the establishment of free trade, seems to be of secondary consideration altogether; and in supporting this he (Mr. Kent) would quote the language of Lord Grey, use I in his evidence before the committee already referred to. “In the last century the possession of colonies, of which the trade was to be monopolised by the mother country, was believed to be a source of wealth to a nation. Hence to wrest from each other their colonial possessions, was regarded by European nations as an object of great importance; and it was regarded almost a sufficient object for a war, to capture one or two sugar colonies. But it is now generally understood that monopolising the trade of colonies is contrary to the true interest of both parties, and that nothing, therefore, is gained by conquering colonies for this purpose.”
Hon. gentlemen who had spoken adverse to this question, said that we were going to abandon the British flag. Such an assertion was a palpable absurdity. But our present position was in his (Mr. Kent’s) estimation, tantamount to it, for it tended to alineate the affections of the British people from us. He was glad to see the alarm which this question had created. It showed the value which the people placed on our representative form of government; and he believed that the successful working of our present form of government, instead of being an argument against Confederation, was in favour of it. It had been a normal school for us, and had fitted our public men for occupying a high platform in the great confederation which he believed would, in the future, be an influential and powerful nation. He (Mr. Kent) saw no hope for this country if she remained in her present position. The late government had been compelled to consolidate a debt of some £45,00), an i he believed that the present would be compelled to the same, and so on with every succeeding government, until we stood on the brink of national insolvency. This question of Confederation had been so ably argued that he (Mr. Kent) had no intention of saying anything further on it. The matter was to go before the country for the people to negative or adopt as they pleased, and he only trusted that whatever might he the conclusion arrived at, it would be the one best adopted for promoting the substantial welfare of the country.
The committee then rose, and the chairman reported progress—to sit again to-morrow.
The house then adjourned until three o’clock to-morrow.
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