“The English Press on Federation,” The Globe (6 August 1864)
By: The Globe
Citation: “The English Press on Federation”, The Globe [Toronto] (6 August 1864).
THE ENGLISH PRESS ON FEDERATION
We give this morning some further extracts from the comments of the English press, upon recent political changes in this Province. We do not find in them that exactitude as to matters of fact for which we could wish. The Times, for example, gets sight of but one of the alternatives contemplated by the policy of the Administration, and entirely misses the other. The “Thunderer” is aware that the Maritime Provinces are to be induced to join the proposed federation if possible; but he quite fails to know, that in the event of a failure to arrange such a union, there is still contemplated by the Government the resort of a federation of the Canadas. The Index seems to fall into the ridiculous blunder of attributing the rebellion of 1837-8 to the constitutional difficulties which are now experienced in the working of the Union Act—an Act passed, as everybody in Canada knows, some years after the rebellion was suppressed! Passing these “slips” by, however it is most gratifying to find that the tone of these articles is most friendly, and though they may contain incidental reflections calculated to give offence to some they indicate a cordial sympathy with the objects contemplated in the proposal of constitutional change. This sympathy, be it remarked, is extended after a pretty clear understanding of the essential principles upon which Canadian Ministers intend to work out their federation scheme. We commend this fact to the cogitation of those Canadians, here and there to be found, who, more British than the British themselves, are decrying the Ministerial policy in advance, as anti-British and dangerous. If the leading journals of Great Britain, which may be credited with some love for British principles, are able to recognize in the federal system a form of government well adapted to the circumstances of our country, and to commend our effort to adopt that system, we may safely conclude that there is no especial occasion for Canadians to get alarmed at any wild assertion that federation is anti-British.
The Times is surprised at the formation of a Provincial Government “on principles to which no colony has the power to give effect.” Suppose we admit at once that the policy of the present Canadian Government is one which can only be carried into effect by the aid of the Imperial authorities. What then? How does the Times think that the Canadian peoples are to get the changes desired unless by first putting in power as Government pledged to procure those changes if possible? We require the assent of the Canadian Parliament to the new constitutional scheme, as well as that of the Home Government. In England, and in every country where the British system of government prevails, it is always the object of those who seek great political reforms, to get the Administration on their side; and the more important a contemplated change, the greater the need that the Government should be in its favour in order to bring it about. In the present case, there is very much to be done by the Canadian Administration in the way of maturing the details of the federation scheme. A vast number of questions connected with it will require the most careful consideration. For its purpose, it will be infinitely better to have the whole ability of the Government devoted to the work of maturing the scheme, than to allow a matter of such unusual importance to take its chance in the hands of a private member—even if it were possible that a private member of the House could carry through a measure remodelling the constitution of the country. Another consideration is this—the Government of the country, through the Queen’s representative at its head, is the proper medium for communication between the people of Canada and the Imperial authorities; and as such the very party to get the Imperial consent which will be wanted. In the past Canadians have effected more than one change which required the Imperial sanction for its completion. This was the case with the separation of Church from State, and with the popularising of the upper branch of the legislature. Yet to bring about these changes it was necessary to put men into the Government of the Province who were prepared to do their duty in carrying them into effect. In the present instance, moreover, the very share in the recent arrangements which the Times assigns to the Governor General, gives in advance a sort of Imperial sanction to the undertaking of the Government.
The Times discovers very great difficulties in the project of federation. No doubt these exist. We think, though, that the “Thunderer” rather mis-states the difficulty which may be expected to arise in reference to the debts of the members of the confederation. If the whole of the Provinces be included at once under the new arrangement, then will arise the question, on what terms the Maritime Provinces, which owe but little, will consent to join a partner deeply in debt—but we do not think that anybody expects Canada to give up her customs revenue to the general government, and at the same time find the funds to meet the obligations of her public debt elsewhere, as the Times supposes would be necessary. Besides placing far more money than is needed at the disposal of the federal government, that plan would involve a partition of the present debt of Canada between Upper and Lower Canada—and arrangement which it would be found difficult to effect, and which might not give the utmost satisfaction to the creditors who now hold the obligations of united Canada. The idea generally entertained is that the public debt and the customs revenue should go together. The receipts from the customs rather more than balance the yearly demands of the public debt, and if the government which collected the customs were charged with the duty of satisfying the holders of the Provincial bonds, the disagreeable necessity for raising nearly four millions a-year for that purpose in another way would be avoided. But to give the general government a revenue of nearly or quite five millions a year to spend, and at the same time to leave the public debt upon other shoulders, would be putting a premium upon extravagance. As the central government must have the regulation of the tariff, it ought also to have the collection of the proceeds of the tariff, and the payment of the debts for which the customs duties are in some sense pledged. If the federation should not extend beyond Canada, the point raised by the Times could be readily settled, as the federal government would “stop into the shoes” of the existing government, as regards all matters of general concern, including the management of the public debt, the tariff, customs duties, &c. If, however, the Maritime Provinces are to become partners in the federation, the question of the public debt may be one of a little more difficulty; but while we have anything like the present rate of customs taxation, the proceeds thereof must in some way or other go against the payments which have to be made on account of our accumulated public debt.
It is the notion of nearly all the English journals which discuss the federation scheme, that it is to afford to these Provinces especial facilities for “protection” against the American invasion, which is always thought to be just about to occur. It is not well that exaggerated ideas upon this point should be encouraged. A federal system of government will not add either to the valour of the people or to the military resources of the country. Through good government may attract immigration to a country, we are not so sanguine as to claim that the constitutional reform is to do very much to increase the population of these Provinces. A federal union, if it included all of the Provinces, might, in some respect, increase the facilities for a co-operation of the whole in the event of war, but that is an advantage which we think may be very much over-rated, and is not the primary object of the desired constitutional changes. The adoption of the federal principle is sought—not on the false pretence that it will make these Provinces in any considerable degree more formidable in a military point of view—but for the purpose of securing good government and political harmony to the country, and of removing sectional antagonisms which have so long vexed us as a people. While these Provinces remain British Provinces, the British Government must bear a part in their defence. For the advantages of British connection we take the risk of having our country made the battleground in the event of an English war with our powerful neighbours. The chances are by all odds that any quarrel which Great Britain and the United States would require to fight out upon Canadian soil would be a quarrel not of Canadian making. We claim, therefore, that while willing to do our part in defending our country whenever it may be invaded, we are not entitled to bear the whole brunt of such a contest. True, it is the fashion with many English journalists to argue as if it were—but we believe the English public opinion is the other way. At the time of (illegible), when there was a seeming danger that hostilities between Great Britain and the United States might ensure the greatest promptness was displayed by the British Government in forwarding troops to Canada, and no voice was raised in England to ensure that step. So it would be again. In the actual test of war, English would realize that her honour would be tarnished if these peopled Provinces were left unassisted to fight battles which would be in reality the battles of the empire, and we have no fear, either that in peace she regards these Provinces as unwelcome dependencies, or that in war she would abandon them.