Newfoundland, House of Assembly, Report of the Delegates to the Quebec Convention on the Federal Union of the B.N.A. Provinces (21 January 1865)
By: Newfoundland House of Assembly, The Newfoundlander
Citation: “Report of the Delegates to the Quebec Convention on the Federal Union of the B.N.A. Provinces”, The Newfoundlander (2 February 1865).
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St. John’s, Thursday, February 2, 1865.
REPORT OF THE DELEGATES TO THE QUEBEC CONVENTION ON THE FEDERAL UNION of the BRITISH NORTH AMERICAN PROVINCES.
ST. JOHN’s, JANUARY 21st, 1865.
SIR,—Having been honoured by the Government of this Colony with the appointment of Delegates to the General Colonial Convention at Quebec, on the subject of the Union of the British North America Provinces, we proceeded in the Steamer ” St. George” on the 23rd September last, and arrived in due course at our destination. The Meeting was appointed to be held at Quebec on the 10th October, on which day the Delegates from the several Provinces met in the Parliament Buildings in that City. Canada was represented by the members of the Executive Council of that Province, twelve in number, Nova Scotia had five Delegates, New Brunswick seven, Newfoundland two and Prince Edward Island seven, the credentials of the Delegates from the Lower Provinces were handed in, and the Convention was then organized by electing Sir Etienne Tache, Premier of Canada, to be Chairman, and the several Provincial Secretaries and Mr. Shea to be Secretaries to the Convention.
Sometime previously a Meeting took place at Charlottetown, of Delegates from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and P.E. Island for the purpose of considering the question of a Legislative Union of these Provinces, and while so engaged, some members of the Canadian Government presented themselves with a proposal for the Union of all the Provinces, which was so far received, with favor that the consideration of the original question was suspended, and the larger one entertained and discussed. The Meeting then adjourned to Halifax, where the Delegates met shortly after and proceeded with their deliberations, which resulted in a resolution that a further Conference should be held at Quebec, to which Newfoundland should be invited to send representatives.
Though the subject had been fully discussed in all its general bearings at these earlier meetings, it was now necessary to treat it more specially in relation to the position the Colonies should respectively occupy in the contemplated Union, and moreover, the Newfoundland Delegates not having had the advantage of being present at the previous meetings, it was suggested that an exposition of the whole question should be gone into on their account. This was agreed to and the business proceedings were accordingly opened by the Hon. John A. McDonald, Attorney General of Upper Canada, in an elaborate statement, showing the great benefits of combination to communities circumstanced as the British North American Colonies—drawn not only from the nature of things as respects the Provinces in their present state, in relation to each other, but fortified also by the experience of the working of the Union of the Canadas, and the more important example of the neighbouring States, which had become so great under the Union they formed on their separation from the mother country. The necessity for Union was also shewn by Mr. McDonald, who considered it the policy clearly indicated by the Home Government, where it was justly felt that the time had arrived when the British North American Provinces should assume the position demanded by their numbers, wealth, extent of territory, and growing importance, and it was alone by a Union of the whole that they could fit themselves for the great place now open to them, and which the efforts of individual Provinces could never enable them to attain.
In view of the framing of a constitution, the defeats of the American system were fully considered. Though the wisdom of the men who framed that constitution, had been attested by its success for three quarters of a century, it still embraced principles which rendered it unable to bear the strain of the crisis which lately arose, furnishing a most instructive lesson at the present time. The admitted great defect of the Federal system of the United States is the weakness of the Executive, which compelled them in their day of trial to resort to the exercise of power unknown to the law, placing private and public liberty at the mercy of arbitrary authority.
These was a very general feeling in the Conference that a legislative union would confer the greater advantages on the General Confederation, as the Government, under such a system, would possess larger authority and more commanding influence. But many difficulties presented themselves which deprived this view or its desired feasibility. The Lower Canadians would not consent to any plan which [sic] placed their peculiar institutions beyond their immediate control; while it was also felt that public opinion in the lower provinces was not ripe for the extreme change which the abrogation of their local legislatures would involve.
These matters having been fully considered, the Conference decided as their first resolution, “That the best interest and present and future prosperity of British North America will be promoted by a Federal Union under the Crown of Great Britain, provided such Union can be effected on principles just to the several Provinces.
In the Resolutions adopted by the Conference to carry this Union into effect, care has been taken to avoid the cause of weakness disclosed in the working of the American Constitution. The General Government will be formed upon the principles of to present colonial system. Executive Responsibility being maintained, while it will not, as in the United States, be dependent, either for its organization, or authority, on the volition or acts of any of the local Governments. The structure of these latter bodies is left in each case to the present local legislatures to determine, and uniformity of plan not being necessary, they are severally left to frame such arrangements in tuis [sic] respect as the altered circumstance and the peculiar condition of each province may seem to render desirable. The powers of the General and Local Governments are defined so as to Prevent any probable causes of conflict—all powers of a general nature being vested in the General Government, and local questions being reserved for the subordinate bodies.
It was unanimously decided that the principle of Elective Councils should not be adopted in the new Constitution, and that the appointments should be for life, and should vest in the General Government, In the composition of this branch of the Legislature, the Lower Provinces have a larger representation than their due, if population alone were the governing consideration. For the purpose of this arrangement it was proposed at the early meetings at Prince Edward Island and Halifax, that Upper and Lower Canada should each be made a section, and the Lower Provinces a third, with equal representation for each part. There was a difference of opinion as to whether Newfoundland intended to be included in the number assigned to the Lower Provinces, but the Canadian Delegates, although maintaining that they had included Newfoundland in the arrangement, at length yielded the point, and four additional members were added for this colony. “We may seem in this case to have received less that our relative right of representation, but so also would Upper Canada and Nova Scotia stand if the question were regarded with numerical strictness. But it will easily be understood that unless such a large project as the Union of the Provinces, with the various and diverse interests it involves, were met in a spirit of fair compromise, no satisfactory general result could be arrived at, and in this instance the Delegates representing Upper Canada, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland made a concession of extreme rights to the other Provinces, although in relation to the whole number, this colony has a larger share than would be signable by this rule.
The principle of population alone governs the composition of the Lower House, which is to consist of 196 members, eight being awarded as the portion of this colony. It will be seen that this number would give us a full representation in the popular Branch, which is the influential and virtually governing Body in all Governments where the principles of Responsible Government prevail.
The General Government is to assume the public debts of the several Provinces, on the equitable plan by which no one Province will be charged with more than its own obligations on this account.
The surrender of the Customs Revenues to the General Government, embraces the condition that subsidies shall be made to the several Provinces for the support of their Local Institutions. In none of the Provinces is direct taxation held in favor, though in all but this colony, it prevails to a certain extent. We feel, however, that in this respect we could not consent to disturb our exceptional position, though a difficulty arose because of the insufficiency for our requirements of the pro rata amount of subsidy that was sufficient for the wants of the other Provinces. It was, however, agreed on, to avoid the necessity of resorting to direst taxation, to meet the deficiency of means in our case, that Newfoundland should receive a special subsidy of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars per annum, in consideration of the transfer to the General Government of the control of our ungranted and unoccupied Crown Lands and Minerals, and this arrangement places the question of our means on a satisfactory footing.
The full and explicit character of the report of the Conference, which we beg to annex, renders it unnecessary for us to go further into detail on this important subject, which occupied the time of the Delegates for ten hours daily from the 19th to the 27th October, when our labours were brought to a termination and the report was unanimously agreed to.
Men of all parties were present at the Conference from the various British North American Provinces, but the influence of local differences found no place in the deliberations. We feel warranted in asserting our belief that no inquiry was ever conducted under a higher sense of the responsibility of the occasion, or with a more single desire to arrive at the best results for the great interests at stake. While it would be impossible to suppose that the report embodies every individual view of the Delegates on all the points it embraces, as a whole it was unreservedly adopted. It is the emanation of the best judgment of the Conference, unbiased by a wish for the undue advancement of party or sectional interests, and the spirit of calm discussion which pervaded the whole inquiry of which this report in the result, cannot fail to commend it to the earnest attention of all whose interests it affects. For ourselves, we have but to state that we affixed our signatures, as individuals, to that report with the full conviction that the welfare of the colony will be promoted by entering the Union it proposes, and that we cannot reject it without aggravating the injurious consequences of our present insolation.
We beg to annex a statement showing the amount and particulars of the charges from which this colony would be relieved under the Confederation, and the amount that would be available for the purposes of the Local Government.
We have the honor to be Sir,
Your most obedient servants,
F. B. T. CARTER,