Province of Canada, Legislative Assembly, 8th Parl, 4th Sess (10 August 1865)

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Date: 1865-08-10
By: Province of Canada (Parliament), Morning Chronicle
Citation: “Provincial Parliament. Legislative Assembly. Thursday, Aug. 10th” [Quebec] Morning Chronicle (11 August 1865).
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Note: All endnotes come from our recent publication, Charles Dumais & Michael Scott (ed.), The Confederation Debates in the Province of Canada (CCF, 2022).


 THURSDAY, August 10, 1865[1]

Intercolonial Railway

Antoine-Aimé Dorion [Hochelaga] moved

For an address to His Excellency the Governor-General for a copy of the report of Mr. Sandford Fleming, on the survey of the line of the Intercolonial Railway and of any correspondence in relation to the said railway between the Canadian Government and the said Sandford Fleming, and between the Canadian Government and the said Sanford Fleming, and between the Canadian Government, the Imperial Government, and the Governments of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick since the 20th March, 1864.[2]


Confederation Correspondence with Sister-Colonies

Antoine-Aimé Dorion [Hochelaga] moved

For an address to His Excellency the Governor-General, for copies to all correspondence that may have taken place since the beginning of last Session between the Government of this Province and the Governments of the Provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in relation to the scheme for the Confederation of the British Provinces.[3]


Correspondence Respecting Reciprocity Treaty

Antoine-Aimé Dorion [Hochelaga] moved

For an address to His Excellency the Governor General for copies of all correspondence which may have taken place since the beginning of last session between the Government of this Province and the British Government with Her Majesty’s representative at Washington, in relation to the Reciprocity Treaty.[4]

In reply to some remarks, in support of the motion, by Hon. Messrs. Dorion and Holton

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance] said the hon. member had taken it for granted that the Government took no action whatever except that indicated in the papers before the House. He thought that during the last session it was stated that the action of the last Government, of which the hon. gentleman (Mr. Holton) was a member, respecting the Reciprocity Treaty[5], was that considered in accordance with the interests of the country. The present Government, however, went further, and recommend very strongly that negotiations should be attempted on our part before the expiring of the treaty.

Of course, the Canadian Government had not power of itself to enter into negotiations with the Government of the United States. The Imperial authorities did not see fit to accept the suggestions offered from Canada, and Canada was only one of the several Provinces concerned. The reasons why the home Government did not do so, it was not for him to say; no doubt they were based upon what was believed to be for the interest of the country, and because it was though that negotiations for the renewal of the treaty, 12 months ago, would not have been attended with success. This Government had called the attention of the Imperial authorities to the question of negotiations for the renewal of the treaty; and notice of its abrogation having been given, they again brought the matter before the Imperial Government. The result was, as stated in the papers, that Sir Frederick Bruce. the British Ambassador at Washington, was instructed, in concert with the Canadian Government, to open negotiations with the U.S. Government on this subject.

He (Mr. G.) thought he might congratulate the House that, in a matter of such importance to the trade of the B.N.A. Provinces, the Imperial Government, for the first time, recognized that the responsible Government of the most important of these colonies should have been placed directly in communication with the Imperial representative at Washington to conduct those negotiations. Communications had taken place with that gentleman, and, so far as it was believed by the Government consistent with the public interest that they should be published, it would be done. At the same time it was proper to observe that the consideration of this question did not lie exclusively in the hands of the Government, it depended upon the disposition of a foreign Government whether negotiations could or could not be carried on. We knew that Congress declared, by a resolution, that the treaty’s continuance was contrary to the interests of the United States. We thought, however, that the resolution was passed under peculiar circumstances which had now ceased to operate; and we were quite aware that to a certain extent, causes of irritation formerly existing no longer stood in the way.

He did not think that the present time was that which it would become the Government to state the grounds or policy on which they would be willing to approach the American Government for the renewal of the treaty. He thought he was correct in saying that it was a matter of grave consideration how far this country should indicate its policy on that point. No doubt great advantages had arisen to both countries from the trade under that treaty. It was said, on the American side, that those advantages had been more in favor of us than in favor of them. The question was not, however, between Canada and the United States, but between all the British North American Provinces and that country.

While willing to admit that Canada had benefitted under the treaty—still he contended that the United States had derived equal advantage from it; and he thought no one could deny that a trade amounting to forty million dollars per year could not exist unless fraught with mutual benefit to both nations. It was believed this trade would not be discarded any government of the United States, and that none would desire to interrupt it. But, if it was desired that the trade of this country and the Lower Provinces should be subjected to restrictions, it would be the duty of these colonies to meet the difficulty in the best way in their power, and it might be that the disadvantages likely arise from the interruption of our trade might be met in a way that would not expose our people to all the disasters that might arise therefrom.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance]—That was his opinion, and he believed, also, that of most people in this country. We were willing to have fair commercial intercourse with the United States, and to make it consistent with the revenue requirements of both countries; but we were not willing to have it said we were to be subjected to either compulsion or intimidation at the caprice of any power in relation to the Reciprocity Treaty[6].

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance]—If relations of a friendly character were to be maintained, they must be put on a fair and equal footing. Canada was ready to negotiate with the United States on the fairest and most liberal basis they could desire. He thought this was the opinion of the whole country, as he was sure it was of the government. At the same time, we were not going to assume the position of being dictated to by that country in regard to this matter.

Some Hon. MembersCheers.

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance]—He did not think that a position we could consent to occupy, or one in which the people would consent for a moment to our being placed. We believed mutual benefits to have resulted to both countries under the operation of the Treaty, and we desired to extend them. Anything connected with the revenue of the United States required considered. We were ready to give a fair and impartial interpretation to it; but if they were going to pursue a hostile policy to this country, of course we must submit to it—believing at the same time, however, that other channels of trade were open to us, which could be developed by this Legislature, and which would enable this country successfully to meet the difficulties that might arise from the abrogation of the Treaty.

Some Hon. MembersCheers.

Luther Holton [Chateauguay] said that the course which the hon. Finance Minister [Alexander Galt] had indicated, however correct in principle, had not been very strictly carried out by him. He next went on to refer to statements which had been made at Detroit[7], on the alleged authority of the Finance Minister [Alexander Galt], by Hon. Mr. Ryan, which he (Mr. Holton) considered very indiscreet. One of these statements was to the effect that the Government would be prepared to extend that the provisions of the Reciprocity Treaty to certain articles not now specified in the treaty[8]. The other was of a far more objectionable nature, being to the effect that failing the renewal of the Reciprocity Treaty, the opening of the Canadian ports and smuggling all along our frontier would be the result. Such statements were most unwise and indiscreet.

The hon. gentleman then went on to express his surprise that the Finance Minister [Alexander Galt] or the Attorney General West [John A. Macdonald] should assert that this was the first time the colonial authorities were placed in direct communication with a foreign power. This was not the case. In 1854, our then Governor-General, the Earl of Elgin, had been specially appointed, because of the position he held, to carry on the negotiations with the Government of the neighboring country, although there was then, as now, an exceedingly able minister at Washington. Here Mr. Holton proceeded to comment upon the nature of the information contained in the last papers brought down to the House on the subject of the Reciprocity Treaty negotiations[9].

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance] said he did not recollect the exact paper which had been brought down; but there was no doubt it had not been considered desirable, in the public interest, that certain matters in which the Imperial Government was concerned should be made known. That Government had always been willing to enter into negotiations, but, at the same time it was desirable to ascertain whether the other party was willing to negotiate. Considerations would suggest themselves to every member of the House that would easily satisfy them that there might very well be reasons way it should not be thought a favorable time to enter upon negotiations. But, honorable gentlemen must not suppose that the Imperial Government had had the least indisposition to negotiate for the renewal of the Treaty.

On the contrary, they were quite ready to meet the just expectations of this House, and do everything possible to obtain its wish in the matter. They had never taken any other ground—they had shown the greatest anxiety to meet the wishes of this country, in regard to the United States, on a proper footing. The whole difficulty had been one which we could not control, and arose on the part of the United States, on a proper footing. The whole difficulty had been one which we could not control, and arose on the part of the United States; and of course it would be quite improper for us, if not also inconsistent with the public interest, that this difficulty should be broadly stated.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance]—It was not the considerations wholly apart from commercial matters had conduced to the notice of abrogation.—The hon. member for Chateauguay (Mr. Holton) had stated that Hon. Mr. Ryan said at the Detroit Convention, “on the authority of the Finance Minister,” that Canada would be willing to introduce certain articles into the free-list. If the hon. member would refer to the report on the Reciprocity Treaty[10] adopted by a former Government, two or three years ago, he would find those were the same articles which it was then proposed to place on that list. Therefore, the Hon. Mr. Ryan was correct in adverting to that report as containing what had been the expression of the Canadian Government on this subject[11].

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance]—He (Mr. Galt) did not think that any one who would look at that list would say it contained anything objectionable. He did not believe, therefore, that Mr. Ryan assumed any very great responsibility in giving the Finance Minister’s [Alexander Galt] name as being willing to make the change alluded to respecting articles on the free-list. With regard to the statement that the Canadian Government would adopt the policy of throwing open our ports and thus encouraging smuggling, he (Mr. Galt) spoke from recollection, but was certain Mr. Ryan did not say that such an idea emanated from the Government of Canada. Mr. Ryan had no authority to do so, and he (Mr. Galt) was certain he did not assume any such authority, while stating that it might be done.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance]—That, however, was a suggestion of his own.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance]—It would have been improper for himself (Mr. Galt) or any other member of the Government to forestall what might be the policy of the House on this important question. With regard to the mode in which the negotiations had taken place, in the first instance, he (Mr. Galt) could say that while Lord Elgin was appointed special plenipotentiary to Washington, it was in the capacity of an Imperial officer, responsible to and taking his instruction from the Home Government. He was not bound to take any instructions Mr. Hincks might give him. We knew the Lower Provinces complained they were not represented. We wished to say that while we did not apprehend any difference of opinion would arise between Sir Frederick Bruce and our Government, as to what might be stipulated, we had obtained the important privilege of communicating officially and directly with the British Minister at Washington. We had not enjoyed this before, and it was important that, in what concerned the trade of the country, we should have the opportunity of offering such suggestions as we desired for its benefit.

He (Mr. Galt) hoped that the concession made in this respect might be extended further; and that hereafter, especially in regard to the United States, with which we had such intimate relations, some mode might be devised, whereby we might avoid the circumlocution system of being obliged to write to the Colonial Secretary [Edward Cardwell], and wait till he wrote to the Foreign Minister [Earl of Clarendon], and the latter again to the Ambassador—thereby taking three months to obtain communication on our behalf, which might be had by letter in forty-eight hours, or by telegraph in forty-eight seconds. A move in the right direction had been made, and he believed the House had come to the conclusion that an important gain for the public interest was the result in this respect.

In answer to Christopher Dunkin [Brome]

Alexander Galt [Sherbrooke, Minister of Finance] said that His Excellency the Governor-General [Viscount Monck], being the head of the Government in Canada, was of course the party who communicated with the British Minister at Washington.

The motion—

 For an address to His Excellency the Governor General for copies of all correspondence which may have taken place since the beginning of last session between the Government of this Province and the British Government with Her Majesty’s representative at Washington, in relation to the Reciprocity Treaty.[12]

was carried.


[1]      Source: “Provincial Parliament,” [Quebec] Morning Chronicle (Aug. 11, 1865).

[2]      Correspondence regarding the Intercolonial Railway was presented to the Legislative Assembly on Sep. 7, 1865, p. ____. For the rest of the request, including Sandford Fleming’s report, see “Report on the Intercolonial Railway” [No. 8] in Sessional Papers (1865).

[3]      This set of correspondence was presented to the Legislative Assembly on Aug. 18, 1865, p. C:21.

[4]      “Return To an Address of the Honorable the Legislative Assembly, dated 10th August, 1865; for copies of all Correspondences, since the beginning of last Session, relative to the Reciprocity Treaty with the United States” [No. 11] in Sessional Papers. The report, however, is not printed. A note accompanies the report that reads, “In accordance with the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Printing, the above documents are not printed.”

[5]      Canadian-American Reciprocity Treaty of 1854 (Elgin-Marcy Treaty). The United States passed a Joint Resolution abrogating the treaty in Jan. 1865. It was formally terminated on Mar. 17, 1866.

[6]      Canadian-American Reciprocity Treaty of 1854. Supra footnote 5.

[7]      The commercial convention held in Detroit (Jul. 11-14, 1865) was attended by the Boards of Trades and Chambers of Commerce from across the United States and British North America. It was one of the measures meant to save the Reciprocity Treaty in 1865. The most impactful speech was given by Nova Scotian delegate Joseph Howe on Jul. 14, 1865. For the proceedings of this convention see Proceedings of the Commercial Convention, Held in Detroit, July 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th, 1865 (1865).

[8]      Ryan spoke at the convention’s Committee on Reciprocity on Jul. 13, 1865, Proceedings of the Commercial Convention (1865), pp. 224-232. He discusses trade articles more specifically on pp. 226-227.  For the treaty see footnote 5.

[9]      Supra footnote 4.

[10]    Report of the Minister of Finance on the Reciprocity Treaty with the United States (1862).

[11]    Supra footnote 8.

[12]    Reinserted from the beginning for clarity.

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