Province of Canada, Legislative Council, Scrapbook Debates, 8th Parl, 5th Sess, (15 June 1866)

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Date: 1866-06-15
By: Province of Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Province of Canada, Parliament, Scrapbook Debates, 8th Parl, 5th Sess, 1866 at 11-12.
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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).

Click here to view the rest of the Province of Canada’s Confederation Debates for 1866.


Friday, June 15, 1866


Narcisse F. Belleau [Canada East, appointed 1852, Premier and Receiver General] said that yesterday the Government had expected to state the causes for the retirement from the Government of Hon. George Brown but had been prevented for the reason assigned. He was now preparing to give them and they would be short. It is generally known all over the country that Mr. Brown resigned upon a question regarding the renewal of the Reciprocity Treaty with the United States[1]. The best way to make known to the House the policy of the Government on the subject at the time was to read the minute in Council on which the gentleman had resigned. It was as follows.

Copy of a Report of a Committee of the Executive Council, approved by His Excellency the Administrator of the Government, on the 22nd December, 1865.

The Committee have had under consideration the Memorandum dated 18th December, 1865, from the Honorable the Minister of Finance, submitting for the consideration of Your Excellency in Council, that it appears from the Report to Congress of the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, as well as from information obtained by him, the Minister of Finance, in recent conversations had at Washington with the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, that the American Government are not disposed to submit to Congress any proposal for the renewal of the Reciprocity Treaty, but consider that commercial relations between the United States and the British North American provinces, should form the subject of concerted legislation.

That under these circumstances he submits that in as much as the Treaty will expire on the 17th March next, there is no reasonable probability that the Congress of the United States will, before that date, decide in any way upon their policy in this respect, while it is manifest that no corresponding legislation could possibly take place in each of the British Provinces; that it is therefore evident that unless some understanding be arrived at with the American Government, for a temporary continuance of existing arrangements, the Trade between the two countries must be subject to serious disturbance, by the expiry of the Treaty on the 17th March.

That the proposal of the Secretary of the Treasury to substitute legislation in lieu of the Treaty, can only apply to those portions of the treaty which referred to commercial subjects. That the national rights involved in the engagements relative to the Fisheries, and to the navigation of the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence, cannot, he believes, be dealt with otherwise than by Treaty or Convention between Great Britain and the United States.

That the subjects embraced in the Reciprocity Treaty are two-fold. That those relating to Trade and Commerce can, if it be so determined, be reserved for the action of the respective Legislatures—each Country pursuing the policy that is most in accordance with its own interests, while those relating to International engagements must either be continued by Treaty, or each nation will revert to its position prior to the execution of the Reciprocity Treaty.

That as the latter class subjects has not been referred to by the Secretary of the Treasury, it is possible it has not received full attention in the decision that would appear to have been arrived at for the abrogation of the Treaty, as it can scarcely be supposed that the United States desire to reproduce the state of things which was happily put an end to by the execution of the Treaty.

That the concessions which were considered to be made by Great Britain in relation to the Fisheries question were, however, so intimately blended with the commercial advantages alleged to have been granted by the United States, that it does not, at this moment, appear possible to consent to the concessions by Great Britain being continued and made permanent in favor of the United States by a new Treaty, while the latter country determines to retain within its own control, all the subjects by which equivalents were considered to have been given to the British Provinces.

That if the objections by the United States to a renewal of the Commercial Treaty rest upon its being an unconstitutional act on their part, it no longer becomes a subject of discussion, and some other course must be devised for the division of the subject, dealing with national rights by treaty and with commercial relations by legislation, and he offers, as his opinion, that no insuperable difficulty need be apprehended in this course, if the subject be approached in a spirit of mutual desire to perfect and to perpetuate the friendly intercourse and Trade between the two Countries—but that it is manifestly impracticable within the time limited for the termination of the Treaty to give the required consideration to the subject, and to settle all the various details connected with it, and that it is therefore very much to be apprehended that the whole engagements of the Treaty will end on the 17th of March, unless the Government of the United States acquiesce in their temporary continuance with a view to negociations. But in case it should be ultimately found necessary to deal with the question of Trade by legislation it must be apparent to the United States Government that extreme difficulty must be experienced in bringing into harmony the views of so many different Legislatures, and much time will be required for the purpose. That in view, therefore, of the proposed Confederation of the British North American Provinces probably taking place at an early day it would appear most desirable to defer, if possible, any legislation arrangements with the United States to the Legislature of the Confederated Provinces, especially as the earliest duty of that body will be to revise and assimilate the existing separate systems of Finance and Trade now existing in each—thus affording the most favourable opportunity for the consideration of any proposals of the American Government relating to Trade and Revenue.

He, the Minister of Finance, therefore recommends that communication be had with Her Majesty’s Representative at Washington; for the purpose of submitting to the government of the United States a proposal for the continuance of the existing Treaty for such period as may be agreed upon for the purpose of negotiation, and that two members of the Council be instructed to put themselves in communication with His Excellency and (subjects to his concurrence) with the authorities at Washington on this subject.

The Minister of Finance further recommends that the action proposed to be taken for the purpose of obtaining delay in the abrogation of the Treaty be communicated by Your Excellency to the Lieutenant Governors of the Maritime Provinces, and that they be requested to inform their respective governments that it is not the intention of the Canadian Government to depart from the course proposed by the Confederate Council on Commercial Treaties, or act in any manner separately or distinctly from the other provinces in the ultimate discussion and decision of the various questions involved, but solely in view of the vast interests in Canada, affected by the possible termination of the Treaty, to use every exertion, in the meantime, to obtain delay, with the intention, hereafter, of considering, in connection with the Sister Provinces, any suggestions that may be made on the part of the United States, in relation to the future commercial intercourse between the two countries, and that the Maritime Provinces be invited to send Representatives to Washington, for the same purpose, and be informed that it is proposed to hold a meeting of the Confederate Council on Commercial Treaties at Ottawa, so soon as the position of the question would warrant it, founded upon the information to be received from Washington, as to the probable extension or final abrogation of the Reciprocity Treaty.


W.H. LEE, C.E.C.

At this stage Mr. Brown, after a long and earnest discussion, said he could not concur in the policy indicated, and if the Council adopted it he would be obliged to take other steps. The question, however, was put and unanimously carried, the Provincial Secretary alone being absent. Upon the declaration that it was passed, Mr. Brown rose and said he could not sign it and would resign. Before giving his resignation that hon. gentleman had stated, however, that he would support the policy of Confederation, and, as far as possible, the general measures of the Government. These were the sensible facts, and it was now for the country to judge them.

The House then adjourned.


[1]      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.

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