“The Great Confederation”, The Globe (4 October 1864)
By: The Globe
Citation: “The Great Confederation”, The Globe [Toronto] (4 October 1864).
THE GREAT CONFEDERATION
The Convention which meets on Monday next at Quebec, will be unquestionably the most important meeting which has ever taken place in British America. It is confidently anticipated that before the conference closes, a scheme will be adopted for the confederation of all the Provinces of British America, which will be submitted to the legislature of each colony at its next session, by the administration thereof, and after receiving their assent, be passed into law by the Imperial Parliament. It is true that the scheme will be fully discussed in each legislature, but the deliberations of the Convention will bring out the peculiar views of each section of the confederation, and will show what kind of agreement can be arrived at. It must be remembered that no one section can have all its peculiar views carried out to the letter—that the confederation scheme, if adopted at all, must partake of the nature of a compromise. In all probability, the decision of that Convention will be accepted as the policy of the Government of each of the colonies, and will be pressed upon the respective legislatures with all the influence of the Executive. Great interests therefore depend upon the approaching meeting. The people of Upper Canada may rest confident that their views will be maintained with vigour in the Convention. Of the effect of the labours of their representatives they will be able to judge when the results of the conference are made known. In the meantime, however, it may be well briefly to pass in review the questions which will come up for discussion in Quebec.
It would appear that the proposal to divide the Canadas into two parts for the purpose of federation, rejecting the division into three or four, met most favour among the delegates who met at Charlottetown. Division into three would be attended with the disadvantage that the central section would consist of parts of Upper and Lower Canada, which have different legal systems, and would consequently involve a difficult codification of the laws. On the whole, it is probable that the old boundary line will be found the most satisfactory to all parties. If that be adopted, the local capital of Lower Canada may be Quebec, and that of Upper Canada, Toronto; while Ottawa, with its magnificent public buildings, will no doubt be appropriated for the general Government. These points, however, do not appear to have been considered at Charlottetown.
It is stated that the Maritime Provinces may come into the federation either united or separately. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland may unite as one local province, or they may remain separate, but they will unitedly have the same number of representatives in the Upper House as Lower and Upper Canada respectively. Supposing that Upper and Lower Canada have each twenty-four members in the Upper House, the Lower Provinces, if they remain separate, will divide that number among them; if they join as one local province, they will send them as representatives of the whole.
We are glad to find that provision is to be made in the constitution for the admission of new North-western Provinces. Supposing that they cannot be brought in at once, it is important that their admission of new North-western Provinces. Supposing that they cannot be brought in at once, it is important that their admission should not afterward become a source of strife. Some arrangement will be made doubtless for the formation of territorial districts as a preliminary step to the admission of provinces.
In regard to the name of the new State and its people, it has been suggested that British North America and British North Americans are too long to be easily written and spoken, and that if we desire to avoid nicknames, we had better select a shorter and more convenient appellation. Our neighbours have discovered the awkwardness of having a name for their country which cannot be converted by any process into a name for themselves, and are obliged either to take a cognomen to which they are not entitled—Americans, or to submit to be described as “Yankees.” Canada and Acadia are suggested as appellations for the new State—both we think better than British North America, or even British America. Both have been applied to portions of the confederation, and may therefore be disliked by other sections. But Acadia has not6 been familiarly applied to Nova Scotia for generations, and is therefore not very objectionable on that score. There can be no question, however, that so far as sound is concerned, Canada is far superior to Acadia, which has too near a resemblance to the fabled “Arcadia” to sit our rugged soil and climate, and has not the strength and dignity of the rival word.
The Lower Canadians who have been apprehensive that their rights would not be fully secured, will be glad to see the proposition that the distribution of powers between the local and general governments shall be clearly fixed by an act of the Imperial Legislature, and shall not be the work of the federal parliament. This removes all fear of local privileges being tempered with.
Each province is to be represented in the lower house, the chief seat of power and influence, according to its population—unquestionably the most important clause of the new compact, so far as Upper Canada is considered. Supposing that a member were given to every twenty thousand people, according to the last census, Upper Canada would have SIXTY-NINE representatives, Lower Canada fifty-five, and the Maritime Provinces thirty-nine. Three ways of selecting the members of the Upper House are mentioned—by the Crown—by the local legislature, as in the United States—and by the people. We resisted the change in the Legislative Council of Canada from the nominated to the elective system, on the ground that it was inconsistent with the British system of Responsible Government. We are ready, of course, to admit that the evil which we dreaded—a collision between the two branches of the legislature—has not yet occurred, but no one can tell when it may arise to puzzle our constitution-mongers. As the nominated members pass away, the body is likely to become less under the influence of the Government of the day, and to adhere more firmly to its opinions in defiance of the Assembly. There are some objections to the return to the old system, but we do not think that we have received so much benefit from the new and more expensive plan that we need regard its discontinuance, if the other Provinces should be found to desire it. The objection to the election of senators by the local legislatures is, that the practice necessarily introduces into the smaller parliaments the quarrels of the larger—an evil to be avoided as much as possible. There can be little doubt, however, we apprehend, that the United States Senate is composed of better men than it would be if the members were chosen by popular vote. The electoral bodies are more intelligent, and there is less consideration of the temporary unpopularity of a man of ability and character.
The proposed distribution of powers between the local and the general governments, is much the same as that which we have developed in these columns. It contains many important improvements on the United States system. The general government is to have control of the criminal law, so that an offence in one province will be an offence in all. The militia, also, will be under the control of the general government. It will be observed that while the public works are reserved as a rule for the local governments, an exception is allowed for intercolonial enterprises. We imagine that this class would include the great canals of Canada, the intercolonial railway, and the communication with the North-west. These do not belong to one province, but are common to all, and are of national importance. For years a controversy raged between the Whig and Democratic parties in the neighbouring Republic, as to the duties and powers of the general government in reference to public works. The Democrats contended that the separate States should construct canals, harbours, and railways, while the Whigs aimed at a more liberal use of the general funds for great public purposes. The Democrats were sustained by the people, on the ground that the State Governments could construct public works more cheaply and efficiently than Congress, and that the grant of federal moneys to local enterprises would surely lead to sectional jealousies, and perhaps disunion. While all sounds Democrats have contended against federal centralization, there has been, at times, a kind of tacit agreement between the two great American parties to ignore the issue between them, and large quantities of public lands have been voted by Congress at various times to various States for the construction of important works. The delegates at Charlottetown seem to have come to the same practical conclusion as the people of the United States. While holding that the local governments can best manage public works, they maintain the right of the central authority to assist enterprises of a national character. It is for the people to see that that right is not abused, so as to do injustice to sectional interests.
The public lands, it is suggested, may be left in the hands of the local governments, and included among the local governments, and included among them are, of course, all the minerals of the provinces.
There seems to be little room for dispute about the distribution of the other powers. Trade, navigation, currency coinage, banking, copyright, census, and postal service as naturally belong to the general government as do roads, bridges harbours, education, prisons, hospitals, charities, agriculture and all matters of civil and municipal law to the provincial authorities. The suggestion that possibly the interests of minorities in reference to education may be guarded by constitutional enactment, is worth of discussion, but in practice the plan will be found full of difficulties. The idea, of course, is that Protestants in Lower Canada and Catholics in Upper Canada and New Brunswick shall be guaranteed their right to separate education. The difficulty is obvious, however, of selecting a certain system of education, and enacting that that system shall exist forever, irrespective of changes in public sentiment.
It is obviously a matter of importance to render the local governments as simple and inexpensive as possible, and therefore we can see no reason for the creation of two houses for each minor province. The twin chamber system grew out of the old practice of assembling the nobles and the representatives of the commonalty in separate bodies, and confers but slight advantages on the public. One body will surely suffice for the transaction of the business of the separate Provinces, more particularly when the Governor will probably have a veto upon its acts. It is very important that the local governments should be framed with a view to the strictest economy, and a responsible ministry in each province would certainly not be the cheapest system which could be adopted. Something more simple must, we think, be devised to satisfy public expectation. It is possible that the election of the executive officer or officers by the legislature would be the best method.
The Quebec letter suggests that there will be difficulty in providing funds for the maintenance of the local governments, when the proceeds of the tariff and the excise are supplied to federal purposes—Lower Canada objecting, as it does, to direct taxation. A city contemporary has correctly remarked that the suggestion that the revenue may be collected by the general government, and divided according to population among the local authorities, is open to objection. It is manifestly more advantageous that each government should collect as well as expend its own revenue. To do otherwise is to invite collisions between the taxing and the spending bodies, and to encourage extravagance on the part of the latter. A still more important objection, from our point of view, is that since the general government will raise its revenue by customs duties, of which Upper Canada pays the larger proportion, we would contribute under the system suggested, a portion of the local expenses of Lower Canada. At present, it is true, Upper Canada does not receive for local expenditures from the common funds in proportion to her population, as it is suggested that she shall do under federation; and moreover the Lower Provinces are as large importers of foreign goods, in proportion to population, as we are, and would bear their portion of the burden. The annual sum to be paid to local governments is, we understand, proposed to be fixed by Imperial statute, and will not be capable of increase, so that, in any event, the burden will be much less than is now laid upon the shoulders of the people of Upper Canada. It is much to be regretted, however, that the people of Lower Canada cannot be induced to assume the expenses of their own government, and we yet hope that this salutary measure will be adopted by the Quebec Conference.
It is satisfactory to find that there is to be no difficulty about the adjustment of the debts of the respective Provinces. They can all be assumed by the general government without injury to any one, the liabilities and the revenues collected being nearly the same in each province, in proportion to its population. We do not doubt that the bonds of the confederation will stand higher than those of any of the provinces. It will have an ample revenue, and if it avoid extravagance will be able to place its finances on the best footing.
All the points which we have thus briefly touched upon will cause discussion, and we shall return to them from time to time. Differences will unquestionably arise, but if the people of Upper Canada and the Maritime Provinces are resolved to find common ground of agreement, and are aided, as we believe they will be, by a large majority of the Lower Canadians, all difficulties will disappear. It is a great work in which we are engaged, and we ought to come to it with thoughtful, earnest and liberal minds, resolved to lay deep and firm the foundations of the new empire, so that they may bear with impunity all the tempests which may assail them.