Newfoundland, House of Assembly, Debate on Confederation (2 February 1865)
By: Newfoundland House of Assembly, The Newfoundlander
Citation: “House of Assembly”, The Newfoundlander (9 February 1865) & “House of Assembly (Continued)”, The Newfoundlander (13 February 1865).
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St. John’s, Thursday, February 9, 1865.
HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY.
THURSDAY, Feb. 2.
The House met at three o’clock.
On motion of Mr. Wyatt, pursuant to order of the day, the House resolved itself into Committee of the whole on the further consideration of the address in reply to his Excellency’s speech at the opening of the session, Mr Knight in the chair.
Mr Wyatt said the next section for consideration was the 11th, in reference to the confederation of the Colonies. He moved that the section be read.
The motion was put and carried, and the section was read as follows:–
“The subject of the proposed Confederation of the British North American Provinces is one of the greatest interest and importance, and we concur with your Excellency that it should be approached in a spirit of calm enquiry, keeping in view, as well the present, as the probable future effects on the people of this Colony.”
The Speaker said he had not hitherto had an opportunity of making any observations respecting his Excellency’s speech; and perhaps it was scarcely necessary for him to say anything regarding a speech which was so very satisfactory to hon gentlemen on both sides of the House. For the first time since he (the Speaker) had the honor of a seat in that House had he heard the members on the opposition side praise the speech from the throne. Hon members on the opposition benches indorsed in complimentary language the important practical suggestions of his Excellency’s speech. It was evident, however, that these hon gentlemen, in their ignorance of constitutional usages, regarded the speech as emanating from the Governor himself, and not the embodiment of the policy of his constitutional advisers; and it was not until that experienced parliamentary tactician, the hon member for St. John’s East, Mr Kent, set these hon members right, that they became aware that they were bestowing the most unqualified commendation upon the policy of his (the Speaker’s) hon friend, the leader of the government. One hon member said it was a parliamentary fiction that the speech was the speech of the ministry.
He (the Speaker) must say that this was novel constitutional doctrine emanating from a professed admirer of responsible government. Next day, however, there was some attempt to find fault, but it was so feeble that it was not entitled to notice. He (the Speaker) did say the members of the Government had reason to congratulate themselves upon this unqualified indorsation [sic] of their policy by the opposition. With respect to his Excellency’s speech, he (the Speaker) would observe that he had listened to few speeches couched in more elegant language, and he must congratulate the House and the country upon the choice Her Majesty had made of a Governor of so much ability and intellectuality, to administer the affairs of this ancient and loyal colony. His Excellency came here in the prime of life, and he must have been highly appreciated by Her Majesty’s Government when he was appointed to such a high and responsible office as the government of this important dependency [sic] of the Crown. There was scarcely a subject of public interest in the colony which was not referred to in that speech.
The subject of pauperism occupied a prominent place. There was scarcely a session but they had to take that question into consideration. Poverty, in one part of the island or another, was almost of annual recurrence, showing the necessity of providing some other means of subsistence for the people besides precarious fisheries. There were no people who worked harder or toiled more incessantly than did many of the fishermen of this colony, or who poured more wealth into the treasury of their employers, while, at the same time, they were subject to the recurrence of seasons of wide spread destitution. Some remedy was required to reach this evil, and if any remedy was devised, it must come from this House, for it would not come from those who profited by the fishermens’ toil: The encouragement of the Bank and Mackerel fisheries, and the promotion of agriculture were calculated to prove most beneficial in furnishing profitable employment to our people and thus improving their circumstances.
But the question which chiefly engrossed public attention was that referred to in the section just read. He (the Speaker) would act with impartiality in regard to that matter. It was a question on which he had no party views to subserve. He came to its decision fearlessly and independently, and cared for no clamour raised by interested parties cut of doors; and he did say that he would discuss it without feeling. It was a matter which had agitated the country for some months, and was the most important question which could occupy the attention of the Legislature. A day was fixed for the discussion of that question; and he (the Speaker) would not now anticipate what he might then have to say on the subject. But having had the honour of being appointed one of the delegates to the conference held on this subject at Quebec, he would be expected to take the earliest opportunity of entering into explanations respecting the proceedings of that conference. When he considered that there were parties out of doors who, from interested motives, were desirous of defeating the object of that conference, and when we found them indulging in such clap-trap with a view to excite a clamour against the proposed confederation, charging the Delegates with selling the country, as if there were in his mind or in that of the gentleman associated with him any desire except to promote the best interests of their native land—when he found such calumnies resorted to he would take that opportunity to make a few observations.
His co-delegate and himself had not been pitchforked into the country. They had not traded on the interests of the people. They went to the Conference with an earnest resolution to benefit their native land to the utmost of their ability, feeling the deep responsibility of the duties they had undertaken. They were determined to do nothing which, in their opinion, would be calculated to prejudice the country in which they had such a deep interest. And who should feel a deeper interest in the prosperity of Newfoundland than they did? Both natives of the Island, in which all their interests centred, was it to be supposed that either of them would do anything calculated to prejudice the true interests of their country? He (the Speaker) expected to spend his life in the country, and he did not anticipate any personal advantage from the proposed federation, farther than it would promote the prosperity of the land of his nativity and the home of his children. If was said they were giving away the fisheries. Now those who said so knew it was not true.
They knew that the people of all British North America had the same interest in the fisheries as we have. But at the conference it was stipulated, which was readily conceded, that we should reserve the power to make such enactments as might be necessary for the protection of the fisheries. Again, it was said we were destroying the liberties of the people. He was surprised to hear such a statement put forward. Would any person have his liberty curtailed by taking up his residence in Great Britain, in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, or Canada? These countries all had responsible government before we had it. And it was the very first decision come to at the Conference that with a view to the perpetuation of our connection with the mother country, and the promotion of the best interests of the people, the model of the British government should be followed, so far as circumstances would permit, the Government being vested in Her Most Gracious Majesty and administered [sic] by her representative in accordance with the well understood principles of the British constitution. He (the Speaker) was surprised when he heard yesterday a member of that House say that he wanted to be British, and not to be ruled by French or Dutch Canadians—what an absurdity our British connection would be guaranteed by an Act of the Imperial Parliament. With responsible government, the ministry of the day responsible to the people not merely of Canada, but also of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island, would not our liberties be as well secured as at present, and our British connection perpetuated for ages to come?
Again, we were told of the establishment of a militia, as if the people were to be marched to the frontier of Canada to repel invasion from that province. When he found gentlemen, from whom better might be expected, getting up clap-trap of that kind, he regarded it as the best evidence that they had nothing substantial to urge against the proposed confederation. Where was there anything in the resolutions to indicate any such purpose? How could we have a militia force in this Colony. Our fishermen, from the very nature of their occupation, could not be organized into a militia. During the summer season the greater number of them were absent from their homes prosecuting the fishery. It was only amongst an agricultural population that a militia could be organized. But, he (the Speaker) would ask, whether every man of right feeling in the country would not be ready to arm in defence of his family and his home and the land of his nativity or adoption, should the necessity arise?
The triumphs of the British navy were not achieved without the powerful aid of the fishermen of Newfoundland, and we had now a body of fishermen who in valour and physical vigour were not inferior to their ancestors, and who were as ready to defend their country as any class of Her Majesty’s subjects. There might be some legislation with respect to the Volunteers, but he (the Speaker) was certain that Britain would continue to use the protection of her troops, and that the navy would not be withdrawn. He had authority for saying that all that the statesmen of Great Britain required was that the people of the colonies should show a disposition to protect themselves, and that protection which had hitherto been accorded them would not only be continued, but increased But it was said “you are going to bind us to Canada.”
Now we had heard that said by persons who had never seen Canada, who had never been out of this Colony; and perhaps it would be as well for some of them to travel a little and visit that magnificent province, as well as Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, which were advancing so rapidly in material prosperity, and in all that tended to make a people great and respected. How many had emigrated from this Colony to Canada, and found there a home where their industry was rewarded with Competence for themselves and their families? But we were to be united, not merely to Canada, but to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and in the Legislature of the union we would all be represented according to our population. It was a treaty, which, if carried out, would give us all one great country, extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific, in whose onward course and prosperity we would participate, and whose glory and renown would be the inheritance of your child. Our alliance was not to be with Canada alone, but also with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
These countries were all more prosperous than we are, for it must be admitted that we are at the lowest point of depression. It was useless to talk of the 600,000 seals, or the 400,000 that we are to have this spring. Would one successful seal fishery reestablish our prosperity? But hon gentlemen would retain their isolation. Did they recollect 1857, two years after the establishment of responsible government, when a convention was entered into with France, giving away our best fishing grounds, and when a few hours after the Convention was made public here, property was depreciated 40 per cent.? What did we do then? Did we contemn the aid of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada? No, but a deputation was appointed consisting of the hon. member for St. John’s East, Mr. Kent, and himself (the Speaker) to proceed to these provinces, whose alliance some hon, members would now contemn, and we received their warmest sympathy and cooperation to defeat that convention, which, if carried into effect, would have transferred our most valuable fisheries to the French. What was the result?
Out came the circular dispatch of the Colonial Minister, announcing that the convention was withdrawn. Hon. members said we would never again have such a convention, But how did they know? Was not the influence of France as potent at Downing Street now as then? And were not our proceedings vigillantly [sic] watched by the emissaries of the French Emperor? And would not our isolation, if we persisted in it, give the desired opportunity of endeavouring to obtain from the British Government what it has long been his policy to secure? And supposing the convention of 1857 should be renewed, what were we to do? Would we send to the neighbouring Provinces? If we did, they would most likely reply—”We assisted you once, and when subsequently we proposed a federation which would have secured the protection of your interests in all time coming, you refused to become parties to it. You may now protect yourselves.” But the union was objected to on the plea of increased taxation. Could any hon member recollect when, a few years ago, the great leader of the opposition to this confederation proposed to lay an export duty on fish and oil?
And now he came forward, as the professed friend of the fisherman, to oppose the union on the plea of increased taxation. And how much would they be taxed? Would they feel 2, 3, or 4 per cent over the present taxation? Were they not sufficiently taxed already? Did they not receive their supplies at an advance of 50 or 63? Did not the fisherman at present get flour imported, duty free, under the reciprocity treaty, and was there any reduction in their accounts in consequence? But we must bear in mind that a notice has been given to abrogate the reciprocity treaty, and with it we would lose our free trade with the other colonies, for we could not expect, if we refused to join in this confederation, that the other provinces would continue the admission of our produce duty free. But under this confederation, not only the products of the fisheries and of agriculture, but also the manufactures of the several provinces would pass duty free from one to the other. Now, Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia were extensive in manufacturing, and the very articles required by our fishermen were manufactured in these provinces at a cheaper rate. Let this convention be carried out, and food and clothing for our fisherman would be brought in duty-free from the neighbouring provinces.
Again, they should support this confederation on account of their children. Was there no regard for them? What future was there for any young man brought up in this country? If his object was to engage in commercial pursuits, where was he to get his training? How were we to get a mercantile education for many of our sons, with the importations which were annually made from Britain? Some must go to another country, and where were they to go to, with the British provinces broken up into fragments? To the United States? Every feeling of patriotism dictated that they should remain under the British flag. Supposing they now went to Canada, who were they to apply to? But if we formed part of the same country, they would find our members there, and if we were careful in their selection, they would be such as would make themselves felt, limited as was the number to which our population entitled us. Our young men could apply to these members, whose interest would oe made available to forward their views. Look at Scotland, for instance. How many went from Scotland, and on application to their members in the Imperial Parliament, got appointments, which enabled them by the proper exercise of their talents to rise to eminence?
And he (the Speaker) was aware that many young men who came over to England from Ireland, were equally successful, through the influence of the Irish members. And it would be the same under this convention, while, at the same time, the recommendation of of [sic] our Representatives, to whom they might be known, or bring introductions, would be influential in procuring situations for our young men in mercantile establishments. There was abundance of room in the neighbouring Provinces for all our young men who might not find employment here, for hundreds of years to come. Then were we not in a state of the deepest depression? And what would raise as from it so effectually as union with the neighbouring provinces? How often have we heard the wish expressed for year, past for union with these provinces?
And now when we had the opportunity, many amongst us would prefer isolation. The financial arrangements entered into would give a batter revenue than we had on the average of the last ten years, securing sufficient means tor the road service, so much complained of, as being inadequately provided for. We would also be provided with direct steam communication at the expense of the Federal Government, as well as steam communication with Canada, which, no doubt, would induct the visits of capitalists, and stimulate enterprise, leading to competition, which, while it would benefit the community, was not, perhaps, desired by some. But although it might be the means of reducing profits, anything that would promote employment must prove beneficial to the working classes. It was said they were giving away the Crown lands and the minerals of the island. From the clamour raised by some gentlemen on this subject, one would imagine that the Canadians were to send down a number of vessels with pickaxes and shovels to carry away the land. It would be a rather arduous task to take away the rock of this Island—to take away even Chain rock, and at for Signal Hill, who was to attempt its removal But what did we want? What had we been wishing for years? Did we not want our wild lands improved? Who was to do it? Was it not well to induce the people who were willing to pay so handsomely for them, to improve them, so as to repay them for their outlay?
We knew we were to get a handsome sum for the surrender of our Crown lands, and we also knew that to render them productive of revenue a large expenditure would be involved in surveys, and the working of our mines, which would be all for our benefit, while there could be no interference with local enterprise, for the lands were as available to us as to any other portion of the Confederation, and local capitalists had greater facilities than those who came from a distance. But our own capital is, with the exception […]
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[…] of Mr. Bennett, had hitherto shown no desire to engage in mining operations. And was it not as well that our mines should be worked with Canadian capital, as with British or American? And hitherto but little of either had come. And if we could induce Canadian capitalists to come their enterprise sould [sic] not fail to prove advantageous to our people, while if they did not come, we would be no worse off than at present. The sum of $150,000 a year which we were to receive for our Crown lands was almost a free gift.
Again, some hon members were constantly speaking about providing employment for our people, and establishing factories. Factories, to be conducted economically, should be established by private enterprise, and the best means to encourage them was to provide an extended market for their products. Now the Confederation would provide four millions of consumers, a number which was rapidly increasing; and with our extensive water power and cheap labour we could offer inducements to enterprising capitalists to establish manufactures, once free access to the British American market was opened up by the Confederation. We had a large consuming population in the Island for whom everything had to be imported.
If Confederation was carried out it would be the means of depriving some of our local politicians of the positions they had occupied for some years past; and we all know how difficult it was for small politicians to give up that from which they derived a certain local importance. They knew how difficult it was for those who traded on the passions and prejudices of the people to submit to an arrangement by which their occupations would be gone. They did not like the prospect of it, and therefore they pretended great zeal for the interests of the people, our fisheries, the militia that is to be, and increased taxation, while all the time they regard their own private interests, for which they are ready to sacrifice the best interests of the country. Our House of Assembly would be much reduced in importance, and ought also to be considerably reduced in numbers. Subjects of much less importance would occupy the attention of the House than we are accustomed to deal with, and he (the Speaker) would be much less important than he had been for some years past. But we ought all to regard the public good, and not private and personal considerations. Another beneficial result of Confederation would be that the ascerbity of feeling which had marked our political contests would be done away with.
For a long time past there had been a constant struggle tor power between the two religious parties into which our population is divided, and election after election was sought to be carried in certain districts by means which we all deprecated. With Confederation the effort would be to return to the federal House of Commons the ablest men, and those who possessed the greatest share of public confidence, irrespective of creed.
Did hon. gentlemen wish to see election riots again? Confederation would bring larger questions to occupy the attention of politicians. There were parties in this community who traded on their piety, and when they wanted a relative provided for they claimed an appointment for him, not on account of his fitness, but said—”it is our right as a religious community.” Was that the way to promote the efficiency of the public service? When we were told of the giving away of our Crown lands it appeared to be forgotten that we gave the Telegraph Company fifty square miles of land for the express purpose of having them settled; and the Company, so far as he (the Speaker) knew, had been unable to induce a single person to settle on these lands; and now we were blamed for giving our Crown lands for a large annual subsidy to the only parties likely to get them settled. But we were told we were giving the Canadians the power to tax us at their pleasure. The power of taxation was necessarily conceded to the General Parliament, in which there would be representatives from all the colonies. Was it to be supposed that the other Provinces were so much in love with taxation that in order to draw a large revenue from Newfoundland they would tax themselves heavily?
There would be a uniform tariff for the whole Confederation and all would pay alike. But some said there ought to be a stipulation that we should not be required to contribute over a certain amount. The result of that would almost certainly be that as population advanced, and the General Parliament was in a condition to reduce the tariff, we would still be called on for our stipulated amount, much in excess of what we would be required to pay under the then tariff. There was much unreasonable clamour on the subject of taxation, as if wealthy and populous Canada desired to get this impoverished Colony to squeeze out of us the means of augmenting her own large revenue. The very same parties who said this were those who opposed the establishment of constitutional government here. When a local Legislature was granted after considerable opposition it was contended that the House of Assembly had no power of taxation, and the then Chief Justice lost his office for having declared that our local Parliament had no power of taxation.
With responsible government we had no reason to apprehend that the federal administration would propose a high tariff, for no people were in love with being taxed higher than was absolutely necessary. And when he spoke of responsible government, he must admit that he had opposed its introduction here, and he lost his office for it. But he would not now go back to the days of irresponsibility. Who would go back to the tunes preceding 1832? See what advances the country had made since, notwithstanding many disasters. But he was satisfied that under confederation we would find such progress as no person at present contemplated. Allied to an extensive, populous and prosperous country, and enjoying frequent communication by steam, we would be relieved from that isolation which had so long retarded our progress, and then if our import duties should be somewhat higher than now, we would have more means of paving them. One word more on a a [sic] subject on which there was a good deal of misapprehension. It was said there had been a concession to other Provinces which we did not get, by which these Provinces would be relieved from the necessity of having recourse to direct taxation.
The misapprehension arose from the construction of the following section of the resolutions of the conference defining the power of the General Parliament to make laws for “the imposition or regulation of duties of Customs on Imports and Exports, except on Exports of Timber, Logs, Masts, Spars, Deals, and Sawn Lumber, and of Coals and other Minerals.”— It was inferred from this that it might be contemplated to impose an export duty on our fish and oil, and that the Delegates from this colony should have stipulated from their exemption from export duty.— But the other Provinces had numerous other exports besides the articles exempted; and the reason why these were especially named was because Nova Scotia and New Brunswick now collect export duties on them, which they are entitled to retain, as part of their territorial revenue.
In New Brunswick the timber exported is cut on the Crown lands, which are to be retained by the Province, and as a matter of convenience, the government of that province, about twenty years ago, discontinued the collection of stumpage, substituting for it an export duty on timber. In the same way in Nova Scotia the Government collect the Royalty on Coal and other minerals by an export duty payable at the Custom-house; and the stipulation referred to merely provided that these provinces should retain that revenue which rightly belonged to them. But as to imposing an export duty on fish and oil as a fiscal measure, he (the Speaker) was satisfied no statesman would ever venture to have recourse to it. It would be as reasonable to propose an export duty on flour, which was largely exported from Canada, the effect of which would be to reduce the price of wheat to the farmers of the province, which would deprive any ministry of public confidence and support.
He (the Speaker) had no desire by any act of his to hasten the decision of the question; and, he was satisfied, the more the question was considered, the more numerous its supporters would become. He believed also that there was no desire on the part of the government to press the matter, for in the Governor’s speech it was not prominently put forward, but came up towards its close. When he (the Speaker) and his colleague returned from the conference? there was no attempt made on their part to influence public opinion. They did not call meetings. They said they would attempt to influence no man but that when the government convened the Legislature they would be prepared to go into the whole question. The report of the convention had been assailed through the press, and not a single argument was brought forward against it.
It was said that the Delegates were influenced by pecuniary motives, that they were to go to the Federal Legislature as Councilors [sic], with £1,000 a year for life. There was not one word of truth in the statement. Whoever went up, would get $6 a day for his services during the season, and his travelling expenses. For his (the Speaker’s) own part, he intended to remain in this island all the days of his life; and expected no benefit from the Confederation except so far as it would promote the general prosperity, in which he expected to participate. But he did say that it would open up a prospect for the youth of the country, which in his younger days he could not have anticipated. He said further, that when the fishermen of the country come to understand it, without whose consent it would not be fair the measure should be passed, they would heartily thank the Delegates for what they had done for them.
Mr. Glen said there were some points in the speech of the Speaker which he thought it necessary to remark briefly upon. One of those points was that under the Confederation his children and those of others would be benefitted, by having a large field in which to exercise their abilities. But he does not tell us how the children of the fishermen are to be benefited. What matters the benefit which may accrue to the few, if the great bulk of the fishermen of the country, who make up its real wealth, are not benefited. I cannot see however that our young men will be any better off under Confederation. than they are now. Canada is as open to them now as it ever can be. There is nothing whatever to prevent them going there. He says that the assertion that by the resolutions we have given away our fisheries is not true. I say we have given them away. You cannot make a single law in reference to them without the consent of the Federal Parliament. You have no control over them whatever. Is now this giving them away? And to whom do you give them?
To Canada, a country which is continually in hot water. She has once rebelled , against Britain, and may do so again. But recently she had again been in difficulty and is at this moment at loggerheads with the United States. And is this the country with which we are asked to ally ourselves, and to whom we are to give up our fisheries? I am satisfied the people will newer consent to any thing of the sort. The Speaker scouts the idea of a militia in this country, but the thing is too serious to be treated in that way. If we adopt the resolutions of the Quebec Conference, we place in the hands of Canada the power to do just as they please with us. Should any difficulty arise between that Colony and the United States, we may depend upon it we shall have to pay our share of the expenses either in men or money. It is true that our militia could not be removed from the Island, but the Canadians might adopt the system of drafting, just as had been done in the United States? There is nothing to prevent their doing so, and it was idle to say they would not. Why should they spare us, and send their own people to the frontier? The best way to secure ourselves against any such contingency is to keep out of the Confederation altogether.
In reference to placing a tax upon our exports, it was the duty of the delegates to protect us against any such tax. By the resolutions, the exports of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick are protected, while our fish and oil are liable to be taxed. I should like to know what our delegates were thinking about when they assent to such a clause as that? Did they suppose the people of this country would ever agree to such a thing? And then these gentlemen talk of the very good terms we are getting. Why, under the Confederation we will give up to Canada £140,000 or £150,000 a year, besides our waste lands, mines and minerals, and will receive in return £112,000. They only give us what will pay our necessary expenses, and in years hence may get from us not less than £400,000 a year.
As for Canada supplying us with manufactures at a cheaper rate than we get them now, the statement is preposterous. Canada cannot manufacture sufficient for her own wants, and it was therefore morally impossible that she could supply us. Besides, they are unable to compete with British manufactures, having, in 1863, imported $16,000,000 of British manufactures, and exported about £6000 worth. So that the idea of their supplying us with manufactures at a cheaper rate than we get them now is all nonsense. Then they tell us we shall have no extra taxation. I say we must have it. It is impossible that it can be otherwise. When the expense of an army and navy are considered, when you remember the immense public works to be carried on, such as railroads, canals and other improvements, and for which we shall have to pay our proportion, our taxes must go up to twenty or twenty-five per cent. In asserting the contrary you are only trying to mystify and humbug the people. You want us to affirm those resolutions, and afterwards, when all the mischief is done, go to the country.
My opinion is we had better go to the country first, and let the people affirm the resolutions if they like, Let us know exactly what you do want. Put a resolution in, black and white before the House, so that we may see what you wish us to do. Then we will be prepared to vote upon it. But I am not willing to give away the country yet. Even in the figures attached to your late report you have attempted to deceive us, You have got down two sums of £500 each for the Receiver General. First you put down £500 for that official, and then you put down the Custom House expenditure of £6,600 besides, which includes that same £500. Do you mean to have two Receivers General? You had better take back your report and amend it. Whether you do or not, I will never consent to have those resolutions affirmed until we go to a general election and give the people an opportunity to express their opinions.
(To be continued.)
St. John’s, Monday, February 13, 1865.
HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY.
THURSDAY, Feb. 2.
Mr. Talbot said he was delighted with the excellent speech which, had just been delivered by the Speaker. He thought, however, when the delegates returned they should have informed their fellow colonists of what they had done in the Conference, and not permitted them to remain in doubt upon so important a matter. Now, for the first time, the Speaker vouchsafes to inform the public through the House of the proceedings of our delegates at that convention. He had three months to consider what he had to tell us, and to-day has given us the result of his three months’ study. He sets out by denying that the speech delivered by His Excellency, on opening the Legislature, was the speech of the Governor himself.
Now what I said upon that subject was this—I said that the views of the Governor, as expressed in that speech, were diametrically opposed to the views of the ministry, and consequently it was the duty of the latter to resign their seats. It is a principle of Responsible Government that when a difference of opinion arises between the Governor and the Executive, when they hold different views in reference to any measure of public policy, then it is the duty of the latter at once to resign their places. This difference of opinion is apparent here. The Governor expresses, his belief that the people of the several districts should be taxed for the support of their own poor. The Government say such a system is impracticable, and they decline to entertain it. Under such circumstances it is evident that so long as the present Administration retain power, their Government must be a mere farce—a mockery, a delusion, and a snare.
The Speaker spoke of those men who had formerly bolstered themselves into position at the expense of the Government and the people. But why does the Speaker recall that? Did he not himself stand at these men’s backs, and by his voice do his utmost to sustain them? He says a great deal of clap-trap has recently appeared in the newspapers against confederation. What newspapers does he refer to, may I ask? The only published clap-trap I have seen has appeared in these papers which favor his view of the question, and they have contained little else than clan-trap since the hon. Mr. Glen, published some letters in one of the newspapers, which he did over his own signature. He was not afraid to put his views fairly and boldly forward, with his name attached to them. I apprehend there is no clap-trap about that.
The Speaker tells us he expects to live always in the country, that he has children whom he hopes will also spend their days in it, and he asks why, then, should he do anything to injure it? Well, I do not believe he would intentionally do so. Nevertheless, he might do so by an error of judgment. He might do that which no doubt he would believe to be beneficial to the country, yet it might prove exactly the reverse. So that I do not consider that any argument whatever. Nay, I might be justified in regarding it as part and parcel of the clap-trap to which he referred just now.
Again, he indignantly asks—would a native be likely to sell his country? Why, of course he would. Who else but a native could sell it? Surely a foreigner would have no right to do it. What does the Speaker mean, then, by so ridiculous a question? I am surprised, however, to find that he sets so very little value upon the fisheries of the country, and that he sneers at the men who carry them on. He says they are degrading us for their own selfish purpose, Well, if the hon gentleman can afford to fall out with the merchants, his principal supporters, I don’t know that I have any right to object to his doing so.
Still, I cannot agree with him that the merchants are degrading the country. I don’t see how we could very well do without them. I observe however, that in one part of his speech he utters a very glaring contradiction. He admits that it would have been a great injury to transfer our fisheries to the Americans, but then it would be a great blessing to transfer them to the Canadians. I don’t see the consistency of such an observation as that. Both the Americans and Canadians have the privilege of fishing in our waters, and I can’t imagine what more either of them can want. They can catch just as much fish now as they are able to get. More they will not be able to do under Confederation.
The hon gentleman repudiates the idea that we shall give away our liberties. But we certainly shall do it if we agree to those resolutions. Don’t we give away our fisheries, our lands, our minerals, our revenues, and our constitution, with the power to tax us ad libitum, superadded. Is this not selling our liberties? If it is not, then I do not know what you can call it. I should be glad to think Confederation as good a thing as the Speaker represents it. If I could be convinced that it would be beneficial to the country, and would have the effect of lifting our people out of their present condition of poverty, I would gladly give in my adhesion to it.
The Speaker has called our attention to the material progress which Canada has made, and to the prosperity of its people. But it the people of Canada were prosperous, they had worked hard for it. They were industrious, and had given their attention to the arts and sciences, as well as to every thing else that could raise them as a people. And now as to taxation: Hon gentlemen should remember there was such a thing as taxing a people to death. It is the last straw that breaks the camel’s back. I cannot and do not say our taxes will be raised to so extreme a pitch as some persons imagine, but I think there can be no question they will be higher than they are now, and if the Canada tariff be retained, they will be very much higher. It is a serious thing to place the power of taxing us in the hands of others. But we go further—we give them the privilege of taxing not only our imports, but our exports, our lands, our houses our money, our cattle, everything in short that we have
The Speaker—No! No! No!
Mr. Talbot—But it is so. The 29th resolution reads as follows.
“The General Parliament shall have power to make laws for the peace, welfare and good Government of the Federated Provinces, (saving the Sovereignty of England) and especially Laws respecting the following subjects:—
The Public Debt and Property.
The Regulation of Trade and Commerce.
The imposition or regulation of Duties of Customs on Imports and Exports, except on Exports of Timber Logs, Masts, Spars, Deals and Sawn Lumber, and of Coal and other Minerals.
The imposition or regulation of Excise Duties.
The raising of money by all or any other modes or systems of Taxation.
The raising of money by all or any other modes or systems of taxation. Does it not give the General Parliament unlimited power to tax us how they may please, on what they please, or to any extent they please? If it does not, then I do not know the meaning of words. The hon, gentleman also says our fishermen, are already taxed fifty or sixty per cent for the supplies they get. Does he mean to say that under the Confederation they won’t have to pay anything at all for their supplies? If he does, then I will agree with him that Confederation is a good thing, and I will vote at once for it. But I do not consider the price which a man pays for his supplies as being in, the nature of a tax at all.
Again, he says that our lands are valueless to us, but that Canada will give us, £37,500 for them. Now that’s disingenuous, to say the least of it. It is true that in a measure our lands are valueless to us, but it is not true that we are to receive £37,500 for them. That amount is included in the general bargain, and is not given for our lands exclusively. Nevertheless, I do say I am greatly pleased with the idea of Confederation. I think it would be beneficial to us in a great many important respects. When I think how we are shut up here in our isolation, sharing so little in the great enterprise, and the civilizing strides that are being made east and west of us, apparently content with our own littleness, and occupied almost entirely with our petty party squabbles and our contemptible sectarian contentions—I say when I think of these things, I feel that our alliance with the more powerful neighbouring Colonies would be greatly beneficial. If these evils could be swept away by Confederation, I would welcome it at any price.
I feel, too, that the Speaker does not overrate the inconvenience to which our young men are subjected here from want of employment, though I doubt the effectiveness of the remedy he sets up. We educate our young men, and for what? Merely that they may walk about the streets, eating out their hearts and brains, and their energy, for lack of occupation. They lose ambition, they lose moral standing, they become a burden to themselves.Our native young men, Mr. Chairman, are not second in industry, in energy, and in ability to any of those of the neighbouring nations. All that they lack to secure to them honorable positions in life, is opportunity. Some who have gone from us have raised themselves to most respectable conditions in life, and there are others yet with us who would do so if the opportunity were given them. Is not that a strong argument, then, why we should endeavor to get out of the crawling and creeping solution which wraps us about as a garment?
But, Sir, I am not satisfied that Confederation will change this for us. If I could be, I would be proud to have confederation as the great panacea. Let us have no clap trap either in this House or out of it on this question. We are here to elicit truth. It should be our endeavor to avoid all discussion that would lead us away from the truth. Let us know what Confederation will do for us, what are the benefits we shall receive and what the sacrifices we shall make for it. But in the meantime do not ask us to adopt it before we are thoroughly acquainted, with the details. Confederation in the abstract may be good, but the details may be found some of them to be bad. Let us therefore examine the details first. therefore approved of them, the House will be prepared to consent to the general principle of Confederation. But most important of all— as we have not been authorised by our constituents to settle this question, we must before doing so go back to the hustings. If there the people express themselves pleased with Confederation, well and good. If otherwise, this measure must not be forced against their will.
Mr. March.—When he considered that his esteemed [sic] friend the Speaker was one of the delegates who negotiated the arrangements regarding Newfoundland, he was not surprised at the hon gentleman’s anxiety to see them carried into effect. He (Mr. March) had no doubt the Speaker was sincere in the course he took, and that he believed confederation would benefit his native land. But the hon gentleman must allow others the exercise of their own judgment in the matter. When he (Mr. March) referred yesterday to our resources, he spoke of nothing that could be considered at all impossible, or which we might not anticipate seeing realized. All who had seen the fine land at the head of our bays must regret that so many of our people remained settled on the headlands following a precarious fishery, while they might settle in these fine bays and engage in the cultivation of as fine land as any in America, and at the same time attend to the fishery after getting in their crops, as many of the Nova Scotia fishermen did. When he (Mr. March) spoke of having 400,000 seals and 1,000,000 quintals codfish this season, he said nothing that we had not seen within a few years past; and he (Mr. March) had trust in Divine Providence that we were not to be visited with short fisheries every year. And when he said it was better for them to look to the resources of their own country for the re-establishment of their prosperity, than to rush into an alliance with Canada, he spoke the sentiments of the vast majority of the people of Newfoundland.
He (Mr. March) did say that we ought not to come to any decision on that question without consulting the people, whose interests were entrusted to our care. Look at the prospects held out for the reciprocity treaty by its advocates, when they were desirous of having it carried. All the dilapidated establishments in the outports were to be built up, and occupied by the Americans who had previously carried on the fishery from the ports of their own country; and wealth was to flow in upon us, such as we had never seen before. Had these anticipations been realized? Not one of them. The Americans carried on the fishery as they had always done, only the treaty gave away to them the right of our fisheries, which we should never have parted with to any foreign power. Look at the consequence of the privileges given by the British Government to the French. The French alone took away more fish than all Newfoundland. If he could accomplish it, he would cut off the supply of bait to the French at St. Peter’s. The last remnant of our fishery at Labrador was invaded by them; and we were not allowed to exclude them because of the friendly feeling between England and France.
We wanted no Canadians to stand by us. Let us protect our own interests. Then there was the line of Galway steamers which was to do so much for us. What did they cost us? £8,000 a year of our money was expended in subsidising these steamers, from which so little benefit was derived. All we required was a steamer to take the buyers from the importing houses home and out again twice a year. He (Mr. March) represented a constituency of 10,000, and the people had returned him four times without opposition, and was he to be a party to giving away their country to the Canadians without their consent? They were good men and true, and their rights must not thus be given away. He would consider himself a traitor to their best interests were he to consent to the convention without their consent. We had no right do anything further than give our opinion, and then let the matter go to the country.
Mr. Shea complained of the irrelevant matter that had been imported into the discussion. The suggestions as to what might be done by the fishermen of the Colony, in resorting to agriculture as an auxiliary resource, betrayed a very limited and imperfect knowledge of their circumstances. How many of them were absent during a great part of the season? And in the town of St. John’s, where so many of them reside, where was the land which they might cultivate? For these people the two pursuits were incompatible, and either one or the other must be abandoned. The hon member who spoke last referred to the Reciprocity Treaty, which he said had proved a failure. He (Mr. Shea) feared the time was not far distant when they would learn by its loss how valuable this measure had been to the Colony. When it was under discussion last session, the benefits of the Treaty had been attested by evidence from both sides of the House, and the only difference that arose was as to the best means of securing its removal. The value of that Treaty in enhancing the worth of the oils and pickled fish of this country, was established by the clearest and most incontrovertible testimony, and he only regretted that the present aspect of the question foreboded the loss of these advantages.
As for the right of the Americans to fish on the coast, guaranteed by the Reciprocity Treaty, it was a privilege that had not been availed of; nor would it be in the nature of things, while they possessed the more valuable right of fishing on the Labrador coast, secured them by the Treaty of 1818. Respecting the important question immediately before the committee, he would refer to the circumstances under which the question of a Union of the Provinces presented itself to their consideration. Sometime in September last a communication was received from the Canadian Government, inviting this Colony to join in a Conference of Delegates from all the British North American Provinces, to be held at Quebec on the 10th October, to consider the subject of a Union of the whole. The Government of this Colony very wisely felt that in the consideration of such a question all party views should be ignored, and in deciding to accept the proposal, they did me the honour to invite me to be the associate of the hon Speaker, as the Delegation from this country, the same principle being adopted by all the other Provinces in the formation of their Delegations. We had no power to bind the Colony to any proposal that might be made, but simply to inquire and report as to the decisions at which the Conference might arrive.
The Government, under all the circumces [sic], would be wrong in giving any more enlarged authority; and for his (Mr. Shea’s) part, he would not have accepted the position if it involved any greater power than was conferred upon the Delegates. The idea of a confederation of the Provinces, though new in this Colony, was familiar enough to the people of the other Provinces. When Lord Durham came out from England to inquire into the so-called rebellion, among the measures suggested by him was a union of the whole of these Colonies, for the purposes of strength, and moral and material advancement. The subject, since that time, has occasionally been under discussion in Canada and Nova Scotia, and the conclusion invariably arrived at was that the measure would tend to advance the general prosperity.—It has never been dealt with as a party question, and men of all shades of politics amongst the most enlightened of our Colonial statesmen, recorded their deliberate opinions in its favor.
But until now the inquiry has never been gone into with a view to a definite result, and it therefore assumes an aspect of greater importance, and naturally attracts a larger share of public attention than ever before was found to wait upon it. It will be remembered that when the subject was first named in the last summer, a general desire seemed to pervade the public of this country that we should not be excluded from any measure of Union the other colonies might be disposed to form; and the Government were criticised with severity for their supposed hostility to the question, in which it was contended that great benefit would be found for the people of this colony.
He (Mr. Shea) was suprised to find that the hon member for St. John’s, on his right, who in September last, through his journal, was prominent amongst these critics, should now come forward as an opponent of a course he then advocated go strongly. (The hon gentleman hero read from the Patriot some strong observations in condemnation of the government for not having adopted measures to have this country represented at the Charlottetown Convention, and deprecating the view that they represented the people in their indifference or hostility to a union of the colonies.) He did not say it was not competent to any man to change his opinions; but when statements so adverse to each other are found coming from the same tips, in the short space of time that has elapsed since September last, the individual has at least no right to the character of a reliable authority [sic]. But the non gentleman says he was favorable to a Legislative Union of the Maritime Provinces, though opposed to a federal union of the whole.
He failed to draw any such distinction when he wrote in September, but he spoke generally of a union, of the Provinces, and quoted Mr. McGee, who it is well known is a Minister of the Clown in Canada, and never advocated any measure of un on that did not comprehend all the Provinces, as embraced in the resolutions of the Quebec Conference, But he would take the hon gentleman on his own ground, and see the position in which his argument placed him. He objects to a federal union, as proposed by the Conference, because it abstracts from the authority of our present Legislature, though he avows himself favorable to a Legislative union, which would annihilate our local constitution. Can anything more illogical or untenable be imagined?
He objects strongly to the loss of a part, but is quite willing that our Local Institutions should be entirely swept away! This is the position, the honorable gentleman places himself in by his attempt to escape from the conspicuous inconsistency of his conduct. But a Legislative union, which would extinguish the local constitutions, was found to be impracticable, and the Charlottetown Conference was a foregone [sic] failure, and must have ended without a result, even though […]
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[…] it had not been interrupted by the presence of the Canadian Ministers. The lower Provinces are all too nearly of like importance for any to be willing to concede to one of then the priority which would be conferred on the head of such a combination, while the proposition was embarrassed also by the loss of local prestige, and the great practical inconvenience of leaving matters of a purely local character to be decided by a general government, where the circumstances could not be understood, and where special knowledge was required for their management.
Under such constitution it is manifest that the local affairs of the several outlying Provinces would be neglected, and all these considerations doubtless had their weight in leading the Charlottetown Conference to abandon the design of a Legislative union of the three Lower Provinces. On the arrival of the Canadian Delegates the larger plan proposed by them attracted the favorable attention of the Conference, whose proceedings were then adjourned to Halifax, and subsequently to Quebec, where the whole matter was again carefully gone into, and after the most mature consideration of eighteen days, the Report now presented was agreed to. It proposes a constitution based as nearly as circumstances would permit, on the principles of the British constitution, and while of the Federal character, avoids the prominent causes of weakness and failure which the working of the American system has disclosed. It contemplates a General Government, and a Legislature of two Houses, the Uppernominated for life by the General Government composed of 76 members, and the Lower House composed of 193 members, based on the principle of population, to be elected by the several Colonies forming parts of the Confederation.
To this General Government and Legislature will be confided the larger powers now possessed by the several local Governments, conferring on it the amount of authority necessary for the due conservation and protection of the interests of the several communities whose guardianship it would assume. There was not in this arrangement, as had been represented for unworthy purposes, and to raise a cry amongst the unlettered and unwary, any selling of the interests of one Colony to another, but a proposal is made by which the several Colonies, on principles of honorable and equitable partnership, agree to concede a certain portion of the powers they severally possess, to a Central Authority in which they are fairly represented, and where the aggregate of these powers may be used with greatly increased efficacy for common purposes of public advantage.
The Local Government would be retained, with smaller powers, having under its control the expenditure of eighty thousand pounds stg. per annum, and the management of peculiarly local affairs. The roads, public Institutions, and other kindred matters would be in the hands of the Local Legislature; but the operations of the General Government would be entirely independent of the action of the Local Bodies. The modifications of the present Local Governmental machinery are left to the several Bodies themselves, to determine according to the peculiar circumstances of each Colony but the necessity of reducing them, in one shape of another, to meet the altered condition of affairs, and lessen the expenses would not be a matter of question. The Report embodying the terms of this constitution was signed by his colleague and himself, in conjunction with the other members of the Conference.
It had been said they had no authority to sign that document; but he disputed the grounds of the assertion. The Colony was not bound by their act, and this was fully explained and understood at the conference. The Report was waste paper without the signatures of the Delegates, but beyond that, said Mr. Shea, my hon Colleague and myself subscribed our hand, in testimony of our approval of the terms and principles it embraces; and we are here ready to justify our act, and to explain the reasons which brought our minds to this conclusion. It had been urged by some hon member, in thoughtless ignorance of the nature of the discussion, that the Conference should not have been held with closed doors. He (Mr. Shea) regretted that secrecy was a necessary condition of the deliberations of that Conference, for it would have been well had it been possible that the whole public of British North America, were present, to be witnesses of the great ability displayed by the prominent statesmen of the sister provinces, their grasp of mind, and the singleness of purpose which animated their course, with the deep sense of responsibility felt by all who took part in these proceedings of high historic interest and grave importance. The spectacle would have done good to the people whose interests were at stake, and have frowned down the narrow minded and ignorant views we now see exhibited in certain quarters, of that work and the men who were its promoters.
It is said by some that Canada seeks the alliance for her own purposes: No doubt some constitutional change had become necessary in Canada; and doubtless it was the exigency of their own circumstances that induced the movement they had now made, but how does this affect the question in our regard? It is neither inapplicable to us or otherwise merely from the fact of is being desired by Canada; and we also, as well as they, will deal with it from . selfish point of view, and carry out the principles which regulate trade and all the ordinary transactions of men. If a confederation of the provinces does not commend itself to the intelligent Judgment of the people of these colonies, as a measure of progress, it will not avail Canada much that she stands in need of its accomplishment. But have other colonies no need? Are we in that paimy [sic] state at the present moment, or are our prospects so bright and our general condition so independent, that we may not find it good to inquire whether the necessity of Canada may not be our opportunity of escaping from the deprivations of our isolated and powerless state?
It had been stated among the objections to this scheme, that we should be at the mercy of Canada, with our small representation of eight members in the General Assembly. Canada is regarded as a large mammoth state, intent only on devouring all its smaller associates. We de not find in the history of combinations like this, that the smaller states have causes of complaint from the exercise of undue influence on the part of the larger. It has never been found that the little state of Rhode Island suffers aggression at the hands of the American union. If Canada had the power, it would not be her interest to pursue any unjust or injurious policy towards the lesser confederates. In our case she would desire to be our supplier of the greater part of what we consume, and this would give her a direct interest in our well-being and advancement. But would the power lie with Canada to tax or otherwise oppress us?
Hon gentlemen seem to forget that Canada is two provinces, not much in accord in feeling or sentiment, or interest. These provinces are separated by causes of the most abiding nature— differences of race, religion, language, traditionary antagonisms, which have now brought the Government of the country to a deadlock, and which bar all prospect of their becoming a homogeneous people. In the Upper Province, the population is British and Protestant. In the Lower Province, French and Catholic; and it is remarkable how little the races have mingled, though living side by side for generations past. In the Lower Province you see the French character as distinctly preserved as in any part of old France, and they adhere to their institutions with even poetic tenancy. Nothing more unreasonable can be imagined than the combination of two Provinces so circumstanced, for any purpose of aggression on our rights, even if their sense of honor or uprightness could not be relied on, which he (Mr. Shea) would be sorry to distrust. Between these Provinces—Upper Canada with her 82 members, and Lower Canada with 65—the 47 members from the Lower Provinces would necessarily, in any intelligent [sic] view of the case, exercise a power almost of commanding influence, and the common interest of the Lower Provinces would always join them together whenever the occasion was of adequate importance.
The safety of our position in this respect will be easily understood by any one commonly observant of the working of the British Parliament, and the influence of even smaller relative combinations in affecting, and controlling the decisions of that great body. There appeared to be much anxiety in this country as respects the taxation under the Confederation. He (Mr. Shea) was not then going into a particular discussion of that question, which would more properly come on when the resolutions were formally submitted, but he denied the statements that had been made as to the amount of the increase of our burthens, and would be prepared to show, at least, that if there was any increase under the change, the most full and intelligible equivalents would be given for it. That is not taxation in the sense in which this cry is raised, where the Colony receives a value for the outlay. The taxation of Canada had been referred to as excessive; but when he saw what had been accomplished in that country, its Railways, Canals and other extended means of communication, adding to its wealth and population and increasing the value of the labour of the people, he felt with how much reason, we should rejoice, if by means of increased taxation, we could be made to realise similar results.
The mere cry of taxation, can be made to serve the purpose of stirring up thoughtless public felling; but no intelligent man will fail to see that taxation, well applied, is necessary to enhance the value of labour, by opening up the sources of a people’s industry. But they had been told that by Confederation they would give up their liberties, in relinquishing their present rights of independent legislation, and various speeches and newspaper articles had been quoted in support of this view. Most of them had heard of Archbishop Connolly, of Halifax, who had recently written on this subject; and what are his opinion on this point? He says—”Confederation, instead of depriving us of the privilege of self-government, is the only practicable and reliable guarantee for its continuance”—”I yield to no man in my heartfelt appreciation of the blessings we all enjoy in this country, and I ask for nothing more than to be able to calculate on their continuance—Sed hoc opus, hic labor est.—This is the difficulty, and I will say, with all candour, the only difficulty for me and all others who have everything to lose.
No country situated as Nova Scotia is, with a vast area and a sparse population, can reasonably hope to maintain its independence for any considerable period. Unless we are to be a single exception and an anomaly in the history of nations, some change must come, and come soon.” This was the opinion of a gentleman of profound learning, and independently of what they knew of his great worth, the letter bespeaks the philosophic statesman and a mind stored with the treasures of historic lore, which could not fail to command respectful attention. —He tells us of the tendencies of the age and the great forces that are at work in the near vicinity of these Provinces, which warn us of the necessity of preparation, and we in Newfoundland, isolated though we are, cannot, if we would, separate ourselves from our neighbours and their destiny. It had been objected that the Federal Government had the power to tax fixed property in this country. But such was not the case.
The power of direct taxation is reserved to the several Local Governments, and it cannot be imposed except by them. Exception was also taken to the fact, that our fish and oil were not secured against taxation by the General Government, while timber and coal were reserved. It will be observed that the Local Revenues are reserved for the use of each Province, and the provision made in the cases specified is merely made to preserve the duties on these articles for their legitimate purposes. In the Timber Colonies there was a direct import called stumpage, under which duties were collected on the ground, but this was found inconvenient, and a tax on this export was accordingly substituted. If this export duty were not protected from the operation of the General Government, and given to the local bodies, the latter would have been compelled to revert to the old plan of stumpage; and the same applies to the coal of Nova Scotia, from which the colony finds it more convenient to obtain its revenue by an export tax. But the great grain trade of Canada, its provisions and other exports, and the fish and oil of Nova Scotia, are not protected against taxation, any more than our produce, for the reason that a tax on exports is a solecism in finance, and exploded from all sound doctrines on that subject and he (Mr. Shea,) for his own part, would as soon think of asking the British Parliament to give a guarantee they would not reimpose the Corn Laws, or repeal the Emancipation Act. But if hon gentlemen were sceptical, all doubts on this point might probably be set at rest.
It was also said that we gave up the control of our fisheries to Canada, which was a most unfair mode of putting the case. Whatever we gave up, it was to the Government of which Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P. E. Island and ourselves were to form parts, as well as Canada. These Colonies at present have equal rights with our own in the fisheries, and have all a large direct interest in their protection. Where then might the power be more wisely placed than in the hands of a Government that represented the whole people whose property these fisheries are? But it was not entirely so placed, for a concurrent authority is reserved to our own Local Government to protect the fisheries; and who can suppose this local right can ever be injuriously interfered with? The British Government now exercise sovereign control, and we saw in 1857 how that might be employed to our great detriment. The fisheries of Maine and Massachusetts are under Federal control, being general property, as the fisheries of these colonies are general property also, and would be righty amenable to the supervision of the Central Government. The surrender of our minds and minerals to the General Government was also urged as a cause of complaint by those who sought every pretext to depreciate the measure.
The surrender, in this case, was met by a very substantial consideration of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The mines, however, were not given away, but the right was conferred on the General Government of legislation for them. To his (Mr. Shea’s) mind, there was a great advantage in this arrangement, apart from the sum they were to receive. It had long been a matter of question what our resources were, in this respect, and the Local Government had not the means to make the necessary requires. Last year a feeble effort was made in that direction, but it is manifest that it would take many years to unfold those resources, if the investigation proceeded on so small a scale. The General Government have the means to prosecute the necessary researches in an active and enlarged way, and for whom, but for our own people, with these treasures be available, if they really exist? It will be easy as at present to obtain a grant of land or a mining lease, and the parties on the spot must ever have an advantage over all others. Our mines can only be taken away by employing our people to work them; and he only hoped they might soon be taken away on these conditions.
But, he would ask, under what circumstances these objections are made— objections, too, which a little examination so easily dissipates. Hon gentlemen seem content with opposing this scheme, implying that in the state of things now staring us in the face, we should stand still. Look abroad over the face of the country, and let us ask ourselves if the present condition of the people can safely continue? Large numbers of our industrious population are, at the present moment, not half fed. And this, under varying circumstances as to localities, has been their lot for many years past, as the amount given for poor relief abundantly testified. We see the population decaying from this cause, and while numbers of those who can resort to emigration, to seek elsewhere the reward which here they cannot get for their labor. And yet, in presence of these facts, it is said we should wait idly by, and live in hopes of better times. We all hope, of course, for these better times, but experience teaches us the true nature of that reliance.
Let us look back over the past twenty years. In that time we have had as large a share of prosperous seasons as we can reasonably look for in any corresponding future period. And yet what are its results, as disclosed in the present condition of the country? We believe we have resources that, if brought to light, would provide that further employment for want of which our people now suffer. But what are the existing agencies by which these means of employment can be effectively brought out? The Legislature has tried its powers in many ways, but to little purpose. We have had fishery reports and Agricultural Committees, and devices of one kind and another, and the result of all has been abortive. What, then, can our Legislature do—this “independent” Legislature, the powers of which hon. gentlemen seem so unwilling to abridge? It was evident that its powers were unequal to the emergency that we have had to deal with for past years. No wonder it should be so, when we look at the constitution and the inevitable proceedings of this Assembly. We are here (continued Mr. Shea) rival parties, one having possession of the Government whose chief aim was to keep themselves in office, and who made every public question subordinate to this object. On the other hand is an opposition intent on displacing the Government, and equally with their opponents discarding all measures that came into conflict with the main design.
Some will tell you that better things and sounder legislation may be looked for when better men obtain seats in the Assembly. But it is idle to suppose that any possible change of personnel will lead to any marked difference in result where the other conditions and circumstances remain unaltered. We have here a signal illustration of the value of our “independent” legislation; nor are we very different in this respect from some of our neighbouring provinces. And it is, therefore, no wonder that the conviction should be forcing itself on the minds of prominent public men in these colonies, that for the higher purposes of legislation the present constitutions are not equal to the task. I do not (said Mr. Shea) mean that it should be concluded that a union of the provinces is the necessary remedy for existing evils; but a contemplation of our present position should at last incline us to look with impartial minds on any proposal which gave promise of beneficial results. He indulged in no Utopian views of the results of confederation, but all history and experience gave evidence of the general beneficial tendency of such combinations.
We saw the advantage of Confederation in our own case in 1857, when on appeal to the other Provinces they all made common disuse with us, and induced the Home Government to withdraw the French Convention. The effects are strikingly shown in the case of the Canadas, which have more than doubled in wealth and population since their union. Does any rational man believe that the United States could have become what they now are, had they remained so many political fragments since the time of their separation from the mother country? He had heard the strange argument, that the present war was the consequence of the Union, but this he thought could hardly have been seriously put. The war arose, as had long been foreseen, out of the slavery question; but the world stood amazed at the marvelous resources of America, of which the war had given evidence, showing what the union had done for the development of the wealth of the country. If the war is to be quoted as an argument against union, we must go back and condemn the British constitution because of the Wars of the Roses and of the Commonwealth. Are we not justified then, looking at the progress of the United States, in believing that a union of these Provinces would lead to at least somewhat similar results?
They are not more dissimilar in any circumstances, and far less so in some others, than many of the United States. What diversity can be more plain than that between Maine and California? The one a fishing and lumbering country, with severe winters, the other rich in mines and all the fruits of the earth, rejoicing in the enjoyment of perpetual summer. This very diversity of circumstances is often an argument in favor of union, and not against it, for it gives a country within itself those elements of interchange on which commerce is built up, and which, in the present war in America, has rendered the country so largely independent of external aid. Instead of seeing, therefore, in the alleged difference between this and the other Provinces a reason against Confederation, it seemed to him to lead to the opposite conclusion.
We have in these North American Provinces, at the present time, a larger population and greater wealth that was possessed by the United States when they formed their union. There is the agriculture and mines and timber of Canada, the coal and lumber and agriculture of New Brunswick, the agriculture and fisheries and mines of Nova Scotia, the garden of Prince Edward Island and the fisheries and mines of Newfoundland, forming an amount of combined wealth such as few countries can boast of. And we have the British Government urging us, in all friendliness, to make this a common country, and unite our energies for its advancement, with the assurance that while we need it, we can rely on their support and protection. He (Mr. Shea) was strong in the conviction that his Colony would be a great gainer by the proposed union; but he nevertheless would deprecate any undue haste in bringing the House to a conclusion upon it.
The public required fuller information, and time to digest it; and he felt it would be wrong to hasten a decision, until the opportunity for full inquiry had been afforded, The question of the Militia had been used by the smaller opponents of the measure. and the fears of the ignorant had been imposed on by the cry that they would be sent out of the country by force, to defend the Canadian frontier. He (Mr. Shea) thought a Militia force unsuited to this country, where the avocations of the people compel them to be absent from home during a great part of the year, and their presence could not, therefore, be relief on in case of emergency. But few were so ignorant as not to know that a Militia force could not be sent from the Colony, being entirely for purposes of home defence. Canada has her frontier to defend, and her Militia is most efficient. But they err who think the British troops will be withdrawn, or that the cost of our defences is to be wholly cast on ourselves. But supposing they were, what alternative have we but to submit? Soon, however, is not the intention of the Government, as far as he (Mr. Shea) could gather it from well informed sources. Nor would it comport with the relations that will exist between Great Britain and the Confederacy.
While we are liable to be involved in Imperial war, our right to protection is a necessary consequence; and it will not be withheld. But some say—”let us remain as we are.” He (Mr. Shea) would show that we cannot remain as we are if the other provinces confederate. We shall probably have to contend with their commercial restrictions; and our isolation will be more complete than ever, and more injurious. Besides, how shall we stand in the eyes of the British Government, who this measure for our adoption? Depend on it, the French Convention of 1857 is not dead. Their failures as the French shore make them more then ever anxious to extend their operations to Labrador. If we place ourselves in a false position with the Imperial Government, the French may adroitly secure the opportunity with advantage. We knew how near we were before to a ruinous compromise of our rights, but we shall now have lost the stay of our neighbours, which then upheld us.
The Imperial Government cannot afford that we should be a difficulty with France, and this was stated to him (Mr. Shea) at the Colonial offices But such an avowal was unnecessary when we consider how the commercial idea dominates the whole course of British policy at the present time. We saw it in the case of Denmark, the other day, where in deference to this principle, a brave ally, was allowed to be trampled on though promises of support had been held out. We saw it in the case of Poland and that of the Southern States, though in all these instances the sympathy of the English people was strongly on the side of the weak. We have no commercial value for England. France, under the Commercial Treaty, has become so important in this respect, that the increased trade with that country, for the past four years, was a principal reason why the American war was so little felt in English commercial affairs. Who does not see the contingency to which we shall be exposed, if we remain isolated, in opposition to a course of policy for these Colonies which England has decided on. We should weigh well all the considerations that arise in relation to this question, and viewing dispassionately the arguments on both sides, endeavour to arrive, after mature reflection, at the conclusion that seemed best calculated to conserve the interests committed to our care.
The Committee then rose, and the Chairman reported propress [sic]. To sit again to-morrow.
The house then adjourned until to-morrow, at three o’clock.
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