Nova Scotia, House of Assembly, Debates and Proceedings: Confederation (7 March 1866)
By: Nova Scotia (House of Assembly)
Citation: Nova Scotia, House of Assembly, Debates and Proceedings, 23rd Parl, 3rd Sess, 1866 at 51-57.
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DEBATES AND PROCEEDINGS OF THE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY OF NOVA SCOTIA. 1866.
WEDNESDAY, March 7, 1866.
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Mr. Annand wished to ask a question of the government in connection with the subject before the House. He had seen a paragraph in the organ of the government, the Colonist, which he thought required an explanation.— The paragraph alluded to a certain meeting recently held at Cornwall, known to be represented by John Sandfield Macdonald, a late Premier of Canada; without further preface, he would read the following curious statement from the paper referred to:—
“From Canada.—Cornwall, Canada March 2.—At a public demonstration and dinner to the members of the Government last night, speeches were made by Galt, Howland, Macdonald and Cartier. Macdonald asserted that the Confederation of the Provinces was now certain to take place in a few weeks.”
He would attach very little importance to this declaration if it did not come from a source like that of the Attorney General West of Canada, and had not been republished by the organ of the government of Nova Scotia. It was a matter of very serious import to the people of this “province when they learned rom such authority that their rights and privileges were to be swept away without their being consulted. It was time, he thought, to ask the government whether they had any information on the subject which might give the House and country to understand what was meant by the significant remarks of the Canadian statesman. He would also like to know whether the government were prepared to state if Confederation was to take place without consulting the House or without being referred to the people of this country.
Hon. Prov. Sec’y said that now he had no difficulty in believing that there was no precedent—no ordinary rules that could be expected to measure the scope of the ingenuity of the hon gentleman who had just addressed the House. He thought it rather a curious course for him to ask for an explanation of speeches made at a public dinner in another province.— The hon gentleman must certainly be attempting a joke at the expense of the administration when he propounded such a question, and asked them to give an explicit answer. He (Dr T) could certainly say that he had no information that enabled him to state upon what data Mr Macdonald made such statements as those referred to. He had certainly read these statements with just as much surprise as had the hon member himself.
As respects the position of the question of Confederation, it was almost unnecessary to say much to the House. As every gentleman was aware, it had not at any time been brought forward as a Government measure. Inasmuch as the Government had obtained the services and co-operation of leading gentlemen of the Opposition, they could not bring forward the subject in a party aspect. Gentlemen who had held responsible positions in connection with the party opposed to that now in power were invited to give their assistance to the Government in relation to this great question. It was therefore impossible to present the question except as one in which both members of the Government and gentlemen connected with the Opposition took a deep interest. In that condition the question had been brought down to the House to be considered and dealt with in such a manner as it should direct. Before the question was brought up during the session of 1865, circumstances transpired in the neighboring Province which gave a new aspect to matters.
The Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick, in the exercise of his judgment, dissolved the Legislature, and the result was that an overwhelming number of the gentlemen who were returned declared themselves hostile to the proposed scheme of Union arranged at Quebec. That having taken place, the House would at once see that the Government of this Province and the gentlemen interested in the question found themselves placed in an entirely altered position. He had no hesitation in saying that whilst he believed that the scheme of Union as devised at Quebec was of vast and vital importance to British North America—and to no portion of it more than to Nova Scotia—yet, under […]
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[…] existing circumstances, he considered that the question was in that condition that it could not be dealt with practically. It was obvious that whilst New Brunswick assumed such an attitude, Nova Scotia, however favorable to Union, could not stir in the matter. When the Legislature was called together on the present occasion, the circumstances that existed last year still continued, and it would be altogether futile for Nova Scotia to move at present.
Should the time come when the question could he taken up, not as a hypothetical measure, but in a definite, practical shape, it would be quite time enough for the Government to declare their policy. He had never shrunk from expressing his opinions fully and explicitly whenever this great question had come up. He could not understand the position of the hon. member for East Halifax, who declared himself opposed to the scheme of Union, and yet at the same time exhibited such a strong anxiety to bring the question to the notice of the House. He could only hope that the hon. gentleman—and he argued from his views as propounded elsewhere —had seen the error of his ways, and was now anxious to make all the atonement he could. He believed, indeed, that that hon. gentleman had else here gone so far as to charge the Government with a dereliction of duty, because they had not pressed the question on the consideration of the Legislature.
Mr. S. Campbell said that the hon. Provincial Secretary had not given that answer to the questions put to him that was expected of him. that hon. gentleman had exercised some ingenuity in asserting that the statement in question was an after-dinner speech, and that therefore there was no reliance to be placed upon it.
Hon. Provincial Secretary said that he would be very sorry to charge the members of any Administration with making statements in which no reliance could be placed.
Mr. S. Campbell went on to say that the Provincial Secretary had certainly said that it was an after-dinner speech; but did not everybody know that the British Colonist, the organ of the Government, had republished the statement. But not only did the Canadian statesman in question make the speech, but there was a number of other prominent public men of Canada present who apparently endorsed the statement. The old adage said, In vino veritas; and we might therefore fairly assume that the gentleman who spoke under such influences spoke the truth.
On the other hand, it might be considered a legitimate argument against union with Canada if we were told that its public men were persons of such a character that no reliance could be placed on their statements. He could not understand the argument of the Provincial Secretary in respect to New Brunswick. What had that Province to do with Nova Scotia? We were able to attend to our own affairs, independent of the action of any other Colony. He would not dwell further on the subject at present, except to say that the Provincial Secretary had not given an answer to the question put to him by the hon. member for East Halifax, namely—Whether it was the intention of the Government to force the measure upon the House and country, without an appeal to the people? Until that question was answered, the House must believe that there was something in the significant statement made by the Hon. John A. Macdonald.
Hon. Prov. Secretary said that he was glad that the hon. member for Guysboro had called his attention to a question which he had forgotten to answer. He would without hesitation say that the Government would not be a party to any action outside of the Legislature that would interfere with the constitution of the country.
Mr. Annand said that the Provincial Secretary had sat down without answering the question put to him—whether any attempt would be made to obtain Confederation without an appeal to the people. On that important point the hon. gentleman had been entirely silent, and the House and country would undoubtedly understand his reasons. The hon. gentleman had said that the question of Union was an open one, and the enquiry naturally suggested itself, were the members of the Administration united on the measure or not. Looking at some of the gentlemen whose opinions he (Mr. A.) knew pretty well, he believed that they were not unanimous.
On the other hand, looking at the records to be found in the Assembly, he would be inclined to sav that they were unanimous. He would now ask the Provincial Secretary to explain the fact, that he had not carried out the pledge he had made to his colleagues at Quebec—that he would submit this question to the House and country. The spirited gentleman, who was recently Premier of New Brunswick, put the question to the people of that Province, and redeemed his pledge. The question had been submitted for consideration in P. E. Island, and in Newfoundland.—The Gov. of the latter Province had shown he was bound to submit the question irrespective of his advisers. How was it that the Government of Nova Scotia occupied a position so very different? He thought that the Provincial Secretary was shirking the question when he should deal with it manfully —be prepared to stand or fall upon it.
Hon Attorney General replied that when he had read the statement in question, he considered that the government of this country had very little responsibility in connection with Confederation. In view, however, of all that the hon. member for East Halifax had expressed elsewhere in respect to Hon. J. A. Macdonald, it was very remarkable that he should now be prepared to attach the slightest credence to anything that hon. gentleman had said.
He (Mr. H.) could certainly say that he was not informed whether the expressions referred to were actually made, or if made, what foundation they had. He had not the slightest idea what the object was in making these statements which appeared to startle some gentlemen so exceedingly. It might be supposed with much reason that the Attorney General West had heard a good deal about reported changes of public sentiment in New Brunswick, and believed that the Provinces were nearer to Confederation than they had been for the past year. Mr. Macdonald might think that the Legislature of Nova Scotia, when it found that the neighboring Province was ready to accept union, would consider whether it should not take up the question, and deal with it practically.
He (Mr. H.) was, however, entirely like a man groping in the dark when he […]
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[…] attempted any explanations for statements of which he knew really nothing whatever personally. It was difficult to understand how the hon. member for Guysboro’ could show the House that this Province might stir in the matter of union independent of the action of New Brunswick. A glance at the map, and the respective geographical positions of the Provinces of British North America, would be a sufficient answer to any reasonable man. If New Brunswick erected a barrier between Nova Scotia and Canada, we had to wait until she decided to take it down. It was somewhat amusing to hear the member for East Halifax complain that the delegates had not carried out the pledges made at Quebec. If any pledges had been violated the hon. member surely was not the proper party to complain. That hon. gentleman’s policy should be to say nothing as long as he saw the Government were not moving in respect to a measure to which he professed so much hostility. No doubt the gentlemen to whom such pledges were stated to have been made perfectly understood the position of this Province—that as long as New Brunswick opposed the scheme, it was impracticable.
The question was not a Government one, and with what fairness then were they asked to decide upon a policy in the formation of which other gentlemen were entitled to a voice? The question of union was one concerning the whole people of Nova Scotia, and could not be treated in a party aspect—Political parties were divided on the subject; members of the government were sustained by influential gentlemen of the opposition; and it was therefore impossible to treat it except as an open question. It was quite time to say whether the question should be submitted to the people or not. when it could come up in a practical shape. That was an important constitutional question that should be decided within the walls of the legislature, and the government would be going beyond their functions if they interferred with its decision. The government had no policy on the subject, and could not come to any decision upon it until the necessity for action arose.
Mr. McLelan said that no doubt the Provincial Secretary and the Attorney General had sufficient reason for surprise that the hon member for East Halifax should base an enquiry upon anything that Canadian statesmen might say. Perhaps these two gentlemen had had an opportunity of understanding the character and habits of some of the public men of Canada, and were perfectly well aware what faith was to be put in their after-dinner speeches. But persons who had not this intimate acquaintance with the peculiarities of Canadian gentlemen, naturally felt a great deal of astonishment on reading such announcements as that in question. When such statements were published in an organ of the men in power it was high time for those who valued the rights and liberties of the people to make a move; and he was therefore glad that the hon member for East Halifax had made the enquiry he had. No doubt it would be satisfactory to learn that the members of the government were ignorant of any such arrangement as that intimated by Mr. John A. Macdonald.