Province of Canada, Legislative Assembly, [Kingston Whig version], 8th Parl, 3rd Sess, (6 February 1865)

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Date: 1865-02-06
By: Province of Canada (Parliament), Kingston Whig
Citation: Kingston Whig (9 February 1865).
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John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West], on rising to move the address, said the subject of a union of the colonies of British North America was not a new one, but had been pressed upon the attention of the public by writers in the press and politicians, and especially by his colleague the Minister of Finance, who urged it with ability several years ago. It had not, however, commended itself to the earnest consideration of Parliament till last session, when all public men became alarmed at the position into which the affairs of the country had fallen. Then they had a weak Government—weak in its numerical strength, and consequently weak in its policy—and there was no apparent probability of any change being made for the better.

At this crisis in our affairs the leading public men on both sides arrived at the conclusion, that something would have to be done to relieve the country from the difficulties which beset it, and which threatened to involve it in anarchy and discord. Through the medium of the committee which had been wisely obtained by his hon. colleague, the President of the Council [George Brown], there public men were brought together, and the consequence was the formation of the present Government, whose avowed policy was to bring about, if possible, a Confederation of all the British North American Provinces.

They had come together into one Government for the especial purpose of securing the country from the dangers—imminent dangers—with which it was threatened, and in this laudable, patriotic object they had run the risk of having their motives impugned, and their conduct misrepresented. The result of the combination was the resolution which was now before the House. In case it was found that a union of the Provinces could not be accomplished, it was the policy of the Government to apply the principle of federation to the Government of Canada, and to endeavour to avert the perils which surrounded it.

He then alluded to the convention of the Maritime Provinces, to the visit of the Canadian delegates to that meeting, to the unanimity with which the scheme of Confederation of all the Provinces was received, to the abandonment of the object of that convention by the delegates who composed it, and to the subsequent conference at Quebec at which a resolution in favour of Confederation was unanimously adopted by the representatives of all the Provinces. It had appeared to all statesmen and leading public men at that conference—and there were men there who would do credit to the Government of any country in the world—that the present and future prosperity of British North America would be best promoted under a federation under the crown of Great Britain; and it had presented itself strongly to them that if we wished to be a great people—if we wished to form a great nationality—and he said this notwithstanding the sneers that had been cast upon the work if we wished to forma. People able to hold our own in the world—if we wished to have one system of Government—one system of unrestricted free trade between the people of the same race and same blood—if we wished to have the means of affording to each other mutual support and assistance—if we wished any or all of these advantages it was felt that they could only be obtained by a union of the Provinces of the kind proposed.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West]—The only remedies for difficulties which embarrassed the Government of Canada, and threatened still more seriously to embarrass it, were three in number. The first was dissolution of the union between Upper and Lower Canada. This would have been to return to the position in which affairs stood in 1840; but no one who reflected upon the inevitable effect of such a step could view it in any but an unfavourable manner. Then the second remedy proposed was representation by population, but we all knew that Lower Canada resisted this measure, and as a cry arose for it in Upper Canada, the resistance to it in the other section increased. And even if the measure had been carried, he did not think speaking in his individual capacity, that it would have been for the interest of the whole country; for although it would have given to Upper Canada what it thought was its rights, yet it would have left in Lower Canada a sullen feeling of injury having been done, and they would not have worked cheerfully under the system, but they would have ceased to be what they are now—[a?] great people, and would probably have degenerated into a discontented and dangerous faction. The third and only means of solution to the difficulties of the country was union of the Provinces, either federal or legislative. He would candidly state that his own opinion was in favour of a Legislative Union.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West]—He had again and again stated in the House that Legislative Union would be preferable to Federal Union; but in view of the opposition felt against it in Lower Canada, and in view of the fact that compromises had to be made on all sides in order to obtain union at all, he had to forego his preferences on this point, as others had to forego theirs on other points. The Conference had, therefore, resolved upon a federal union, but of such a character as did not make it very much different from the union which existed between England and Scotland. This union was strongly federal in its nature, as shown by the fact that measures affecting local interests and institutions in Scotland could not pass in the Imperial Parliament without the support of a majority of the representatives from Scotland, and also shown by the difference between the marriage laws of Scotland and England, and by the separate powers enjoyed by local authorities of the northern kingdom.

One great objection to a federal union of all the Provinces was the expense of the separate Legislatures. This, it had been urged, would impose large additional burdens upon the people. He did not propose to enter into any lengthened comment upon this point, because his hon. friend, the President of the Council [George Brown], he believed, intended to deal with that particular point; but he would state it as his conviction, that the public expenses under the proposed Confederation would not be greater than they were now.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West]—As he had said before, the resolutions of the Conference were the result of compromises, and as such it would have to be accepted as a whole by all the Provinces, or rejected altogether. If members of this House did not believe that this Federation would be for the future prosperity of ourselves and our children, then he would say reject the scheme.

But if, after calm, full and fair consideration of the scheme, they believed that on the whole it was for the advantage of all the Provinces—if the House and country believed that the system proposed was one which would ensure for us British laws, British institutions, British freedom, a continuance of our connection with Great Britain, and the increased prosperity of the country—then he would ask and implore every one to meet the question in the same spirit as it had been met by the representatives of the different colonies—to lay aside their own opinions on particular points and to accept the scheme as a whole—casting aside their own individual views as all had done in the Conferences for the sake of obtaining the great object.

He asked them to adopt it as a whole, and not to eliminate any part of it or alter it in any manner. If they made any change it would cause a postponement, perhaps an endless postponement of the whole subject. Proceedings would then have to be begun de novo. Negotiations would again have to be opened up between the different Provinces, and before they could again be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, perhaps obstacles would be interposed which would entirely prevent the carrying out of the scheme. If we did not then embrace the opportunity, the time would pass by, and we might never perhaps have the opportunity again; because, so surely as this scheme was rejected, so surely would the Maritime Provinces revert to the original preposition of bringing about a junction between themselves, and they would not remain in the position in which they were now—a powerless, scattered, and comparatively helpless community. They would come together and form a community not so strong as would be formed under the scheme, but still a strong and respectable community, and we in Canada would be forever prevented from going into this Federation, which, he believed was in the words of the resolution, “for the present and future prosperity of British North America.”

If we were not blind we must see the hazardous position in which we stood in regard to the United States. He was not an alarmist. He did not believe that we would be involved in war with the neighbouring country, for he thought such a horror would be prevented by the common sense of both peoples—but still we would be wanting in our duty—this House would be wanting in its duty—if we ran any risks in this matter. We knew the United States were engaged in a war of enormous magnitude, and were in a position to wage it on an almost unprecedented scale. We knew, too, that questions of irritation had again and again arisen between that country and Great Britain, and were likely again to arise at any moment. We could not foresee the result of such a state of things. We could not tell the time when the two nations might not be drifted into war, as nations had hitherto drifted into war against their strongest inclinations; and then it would be too late for us to enter into negociations for junction with our sister colonies.

At this moment, in consequence of irritation which was felt in the United States against England—Canada, he believed, was not in any degree responsible for it—the Reciprocity Treaty was about to be put an end to. The trade of this country was hampered by the passport system. At any moment we might be deprived of the privilege of transporting our goods in bond over the railways of the United States. Already we were threatened with the necessity of returning to the old state of things when we had to import in summer by the St. Lawrence all the supplies we required for the whole year; and already we were threatened with having our intercourse with the United States, political and commercial destroyed. If we did not, therefore, take warning; if we did not now, while we had the opportunity, take advantage of the present arrangement, and of the present desire of the Lower Provinces to enter into a closer and firmer alliance with us than now existed, we might suffer the loss of commercial advantages which we might never again be able to restore.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West]—The hon. gentleman then proceeded to address himself to details of the scheme as presented to the House in resolutions before it. He said he was not one of those who looked upon the constitution of the United States as a failure.

Some Hon. Members—Hear.

John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West]—He believed it was one of the most wonderful works of human intellect—one of the most marvellous efforts of skill and organization that ever governed a free people; but to say that it was perfect would be wrong. To say that it was the result of human wisdom was sufficient to show that it was not perfect. There could be no doubt, however, that there were many things in it that were admirable in themselves, and the Conference which met to form a new constitution for those Provinces was justified in looking for guidance to some of the best features of the constitution of the United States, while taking care to reject those provisions which had proved themselves erroneous and unsafe, and which had in a large degree led to the present unfortunate and unhappy state of affairs existing in that country. There was this difference, however, to begin with that the Conference unanimously, and with the heartiest enthusiasm, decided that the sovereignty of the new Confederation should be vested in the Sovereign of Great Britain, or her duly authorized representative.

He then went on to consider the provisions respecting the Legislature. An English newspaper had objected to the section which declared the Legislature to consist of two bodies—the House of Commons and Legislative Council—saying that the Sovereign was part of Parliament and should have been so recognised. But he found that Hallam, whose authority would not be questioned, had spoken of the King surrounded by his Parliament, and other expressions of writers showed that while the Imperial Parliament consisted of three branches [—] the Lords spiritual, the Lords temporal, and the House of Commons—the Sovereign was not regarded as being a Parliamentary body.

At any rate, the objection was but verbal criticism, and could not be urged as any serious defect in the scheme. In considering the sections relating to the Legislative Council, he said an objection had been made that because the members were appointed by the Crown, there would be danger of a dead lock between the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament. He did not think any such consequence could arise. We all knew that in England dead locks did not occur, and that there had been no difficulty between the two Houses since the reign of Queen Anne. He confessed he had been a supporter of the principle of an Elective Legislative Council.

Some Hon. Members—Hear, hear.

John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West]—And he did not think that that principle had been a failure. But the Conference had deemed it advisable that under the new constitution the Chamber should be composed of Crown appointed life members. It would, of course, exercise its own authority when it thought proper, but he thought that nothing would be done by it which would conflict with the wishes of the popular branch. The Upper House was not a mere Chamber for registering the decrees of the Lower House. It was only valuable because of its power to revise legislation which might be hasty and imperfect, or the result of temporary popular passion. There would he thought, be greater danger of a dead lock if the Upper House were made elective, for then it would claim to represent popular opinion as fully as the other chamber, and would, perhaps, be more determined in its resistance to measures which did not meet its approval but had the support of the Lower House. He then alluded to the Constitution of the House of Commons, and at some length explained details of the scheme under this head.

He next adverted to the clauses relating to the judiciary, and then proceeded to consider the powers of the local Governments. The Governors would be responsible to the general Government precisely in the same way that the Governor General and Lieutenant Governors are now to the Imperial Government. With respect to one prerogative granted to them, he observed it had been adversely criticised. He referred to the pardoning power. It was thought that that great power should be reserved for Governor Generals, and there were some reasons why it should be so reserved. But the present arrangement was adopted in consequence of the practical difficulties which must arise from the great multiplicity of cases in which the prerogative was involved. Every sentence and every recognizance was dependent upon it. It obviously could not be satisfactorily exercised by the Governor General, but if their arguments on this point did not satisfy the Imperial Government and Parliament, of course they could exercise their supreme authority to place the power altogether in the hands of the central Government.

Legislation on a several subjects belonged alike to the local and general legislatures. In that case the same provision was made as now between Colonial and Imperial Parliaments. Local legislation is over-ruled by the general Government, no vote of money can in any Legislature be passed without the assent of the representative of the Crown, and those responsible for preserving the equality between the revenue and the expenditure. Much of the scheme was taken up with the details of debt, revenue, &c., which he would leave to be treated of by his colleagues, the President of the Council [George Brown] and the Minister of Finance [Alexander Galt].

Finally, Her Majesty to decide upon the name and rank of the country thus to be united. He knew not if the House would have any suggestion to offer. He did not know whether we would rank hereafter as kingdom, vice-royalty, or province; but he was sure Her Majesty would choose a name acceptable to us, and give us a rank consistent, not with our present resources and promise only, but with the great future we hoped was opening before us. He would once more urge upon the House to approach this great subject in the spirit of conciliation and compromise, and consider the scheme as a whole—consider whether it was worth while to form this union at all; and if so, to accept the scheme as a whole. If they really believed it one calculated to advance the prosperity and strength, the wealth and credit of the country, he prayed them to set aside for the time any preconceived opinion about what would be best in matters of mere detail, and accept it. To raise difficulties over them was likely to defeat the whole scheme.

One argument had been advanced, though not strongly urged, that this Confederation was a step towards separation from the mother country. He had no apprehension. As we grew greater, stronger, and richer, and ceased to be divided into petty, burdensome, dependencies which might be absorbed piece meal, the mother country would grow more and more anxious to cement her alliance with us; and the people of Canada were not desirous of severing the connection. If with our well-nigh three millions she was not desirous now to sever the connection, would she more desire it with near four millions after the union? Would the United Provinces desire it?

The people of Canada were loyal, but, if possible, they were exceeded in loyalty by the Maritime Colonies. Uniting with them would not lead to increased desire or chance of disunion. United, we should be equal to many second and third rate European States. We should be increased in strength and in credit abroad. We should offer greater opportunities and security for freedom to emigrants, and attract more of them. During the twenty-five years of our Canadian union our population had increased very fast. With this Union he believed the increase would be greater in the next twenty-five years. Then, with a population of eight or nine millions our alliance might be courted even by the most powerful states on earth.

He knew there was a small, but clamourous, party in England—respectable perhaps in ability, but weak in influence—which declared it advisable for the mother country to get rid of her colonies. That was not the opinion of the statesmen of England nor of the people. It would never be that of the Government of England. By this scheme we were helping on the mother country to a better colonial system. It would create a wholesome, healthy hearty alliance between the mother country and the colonies, instead of the doubtful connection of the past; and hereafter she would have a great State in America, at once allied with and dependent on her, prepared to stand by her in peace or in war, and another such State in Australia. Thus supported by her colonies, Britain could meet the world in arms. It has been said we stood in danger of being dragged into war not of our creation, owing to our connection with Britain. That was true.

Yet knowing all the horrors of war, all the serious evils that must befall us in case of war with our next neighbours, when that danger was imminent recently the people rose as one man to meet the occasion worthily. Not one adverse opinion was offered—not one recalcitrant voice heard, for we felt that the moral benefits of connection were no great as to overbalance all these disadvantages. We had the benefit of British liberty, founded on the principles of the British Constitution, under a monarchy we revered—a monarch we loved. We had the high character of British statesmen as a model after which to form ours in this younger, rougher, unformed country. It was not so much a benefit in physical strength or riches—not one which could be calculated arithmetically, but overwhelming in its power for our future advantage in the formation and establishment of constitutional rights and national freedom.

For one thing they could scarcely be grateful enough to Divine Providence—that we were able here in Canada to discuss these great questions peacefully, and quietly consider of the formation of a constitution and nationality for ourselves, not forced into it by hostile attacks from without, or domestic dissensions within, as had been the fate of so many other peoples. Here, under the protection, and with the sanctions of, but without the restraint imposed by the Imperial Government, we met freely and deliberately to consider of and shape our future destiny. We were told that the Sovereign was prepared to sanction and ask Parliament to sanction anything we thought best for ourselves. That and that only we were asked to consider. He prayed the House not to lose this opportunity of settling this great question upon favourable terms. If we did, it might never recur. Only the peculiar circumstances of the time enabled us to bring the matter so far to such a successful issue. If, by disputes over mere details, we lost these present advantages, we and our children might long have occasion to regret that we allowed the golden opportunity to be lost of building up a great State here under the auspices of our much beloved Sovereign Queen Victoria.

Some Hon. MembersThe hon. gentleman sat down amid prolonged cheers, having spoken over two hours and a half.

Luther Holton [Chateauguay] asked how the Government would deal with the suggestions in the Colonial Secretary’s despatch. Would they adhere to every part of the scheme, or adopt the suggestions? Had the Lower Provinces been communicated with?

John A. Macdonald [Kingston, Attorney-General West]—At the time the Conference was dissolved, it was understood that all the colonial Governments would present the scheme as a whole to their respective Parliaments. That agreement remained in force. Nor did they do that without the hope that the Imperial authorities would accept the scheme such as the Colonial Parliaments sent it to them.

Luther Holton [Chateauguay] hoped the Government would explain what parts would be incorporated in the Bill, and what left out, referring to the Intercolonial Railway clause as one example.

George-Étienne Cartier [Montreal East, Attorney-General West] rose to speak, saying he would go on then or to-morrow, as the House wished. He should probably speak two hours to two hours and a half.

The House adjourned.

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