Debating Confederation

Document 1: Confederation Debates

Source: Parliamentary Debates on the Subject of the Confederation of the British North American Provinces, 3rd Session, 8th Provincial Parliament of Canada. Quebec: Hunter, Rose, 1865.



Étienne-Paschal Taché, ca. 1865-1875. Source: Library and Archives Canada, PA-074100.

[Pages 6-7]

Hon. Sir E.P. TACHÉ (Link to Bio) then said that in moving the resolution he felt it his duty first to make a few preliminary remarks, and to give fully and thoroughly the reasons which had induced him to assume the grave responsibility of laying this measure before the House and the country. The reasons were two-fold. They related first to the intrinsic  merits of the scheme itself, divested of all other considerations, and next, to the settlement of the domestic difficulties which for some years had distracted the country, and the means we might and ought to employ to restore good feeling, harmony and concord therein. He would, then, first address himself to what he considered the intrinsic merits of the scheme of Confederation, and he would therefore say that if were anxious to continue our connection with the British Empire, and to preserve intact our institutions, our laws, and even our remembrances of the past, we must sustain the measure. If the opportunity which now presented itself were allowed to pass by unimproved, whether we would or would not, we would be forced into the American Union by violence, and if not by violence, would be placed upon an inclined plain which would carry us there insensibly. In either case the result would be the same. In our present condition we would not long continue to exist as a British colony. To sustain this position he thought it was only necessary to look at the present state of Canada, its extent, its agricultural and mineral resources, its internal means of communication — natural and artificial, — its geographical position and its climate. The extent of the Canadian territory was, perhaps, not defined, but it was sufficiently well known to enable him to state that it was as large as many empires in Europe, larger than France or Austria. He knew that the portion cultivated was, in respect to its superficial area, only as to the seacoast to the sea itself. We had vast forests not yet opened or occupied, and yet we had a population numbering over two and a half millions souls. With such an extent of territory and so fertile a soil, he had no doubt whatever that in less than half a century Canada would embrace a population equal to that of the large empires of the old world. Then with regard to our internal communications, natural and artificial, there was the noble St. Lawrence, which, with great propriety, might be called the father of rivers for this stream, in point of navigable extent was longer than any other river in the world. Some of its tributaries which would help to people the interior, were larger than the first-class rivers of Europe, and as to its lakes, none such are to be found elsewhere, especially in view of the facilities they afford to trade. Then the minerals of Canada, which were only now beginning to attract attention, were of the most valuable character, and as practical men asserted, much more valuable than the richest auriferous regions could be. The honorable member then referred to the artificial communications of the country, vis., our Canals which, he said, were on a scale unequalled in America, or, indeed, in the world. Our Railway system too, in proportion to our means and population, was as extensive as could be found anywhere else; yet with all these advantages, natural and acquired, he was bound to say we could not become a great nation. We labored under a drawback or disadvantage which would effectually prevent that, and he would defy any one to take a map of the world and point to any great nation which had not seaports of its own open at all times of the year. Canada did not possess those advantages, but was shut up in a prison, as it were, for five months of the year in fields of ice, which all the steam engineering apparatus of human ingenuity could not overcome, and so long as this state of things continued, we must consent to be a small people, who could, at any moment, be assailed and invaded by a people better situated in that respect than we were. Canada, was, in fact, just like a farmer who might stand upon an elevated spot on his property, from which he could look around upon fertile fields, meandering streams, wood and all else that was necessary to his domestic wants, but who had no outlet to the highway. To be sure he might have an easy, good-natured neighbor, who had such an outlet and this neighbor might say to him, “Don’t be uneasy about that, for I will allow you to pass on to the highway, through my cross road, and we shall both profit by the arrangement.” So long as this obliging neighbor was in good humor everything would go on pleasantly, but the very best natured people would sometimes get out of temper, or grow capricious, or circumstances might arise to cause irritation. And so it might come to pass that the excellent neighbor would get dissatisfied… Well, that was precisely our position in reference to the United States.



John A. Macdonald, 1872. Source: Library and Archives Canada, C-010144.

[Pages 25-29]

Attorney General MACDONALD (Link to Bio) moved, “That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She may be graciously pleased to cause a measure to be submitted to the Imperial Parliament, for the purpose of united the Colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island, in one Government, with provisions based on certain Resolutions, which were adopted at the Conference of Delegates from teh sale Colonies, held at the city of Quebec, on the 10th October, 1864.” He said: — Mr. Speaker, in fulfilment of the promise made by the Government to the Parliament at its last session, I have moved this resolution. I have had the honor of being charged, on behalf of the Government, to submit a scheme for the Confederation of all the British North American Provinces — a scheme which has been received I am glad to say, with general, if not universal, approbation in Canada. The scheme, as propounded through the press, has received almost no opposition. While there may be occasionally, here and there, expressions of dissent from some of the details, yet the scheme as a whole has met with almost universal approval, and the Government has the greatest satisfaction in presenting it to this House. This subject, which now absorbs the attention of the people of Canada, and of the whole of British North America, is not a new one. For years it has more or less attracted the attention of every statesman and politician in these provinces, and has been looked upon by many far-seeing politicians as being eventually the means of deciding and settling very many of the vexed questions which have retarded the prosperity of the colonies as a whole, and particularly the prosperity of Canada… Everything seemed to shew that the present was the time, if ever, when this great union between all Her Majesty’s subjects dwelling in British North America, would be carried out. (Hear, hear.) When the Government was formed, it was felt that the difficulties in the way of effecting a union between all the British North American Colonies were great — so great as almost, in the opinion of many, to make it hopeless. And with that view is was the policy of the Government, if they could not succeed in procuring a union between all the British North American Colonies, to attempt to free the country from the dead-lock in which we were placed in Upper and Lower Canada, in consequence of the difference of opinion between the two sections, by having a severance to a certain extent of the present union between the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, and the substitution of a Federal Union between them. Most of us, however, I may say, all of us, were agreed — and I believe every thinking man will agree — as to the expediency of effecting a union between all the provinces, and the superiority of such a design, if it were only practicable, over the smaller scheme of having a Federal Union between Upper and Lower Canada alone. By a happy concurrence of events, the time came when that proposition could be made with a hope of success.By a fortunate coincidence the desire for union existed in the Lower Provinces, and a feeling of the necessity of strengthening themselves by collecting together the scattered colonies on the sea-board, had induced them to form a convention of their own for the purpose of effecting a union of the Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, the legislatures of those colonies having formally authorized their respective governments to send a delegation to Prince Edward Island for the purpose of attempting to form a union of some kind… And it seems to men, as to them, and I think it will so appear to the people of this country, that, if we wish to be a great people; if we wish to form — using the expression which was sneered at the other evening — a great nationality, commanding the respect of the world, able to hold our own against all opponents, and to defend those institutions we prize; if we wish to have one system of government, and to establish a commercial union, with unrestricted free trade, between people of the five provinces, belonging, as they do, to the same nation, obeying the same Sovereign, owning the same allegiance, and being, for the most part, of the same blood and lineage: If we wish to be able to afford to each other the means of mutual defence and support against aggression and attack — this can only be obtained by a union of some kind between the scattered and weak boundaries composing the British North American Provinces. (Cheers)… There were only three modes, — if I may return for a moment to the difficulties with which Canada was surrounded, — only three modes that were at all suggested, by which the dead lock in our affairs, the anarchy we dreaded, and the evils which retarded out prosperity, could be met or averted. One was the dissolution of the union between Upper and Lower Canada, leaving them as they were before the union of 1841. I believe that that propositions, by itself had no supporters. It was felt by every one that, although it was a course that would do away with the sectional difficulties which existed, — though it would remove the pressure on the part of the people of Upper Canada for the representation based upon population, — and the jealousy of the people of Lower Canada lest their institutions should be attacked and prejudiced by that principle in our representation; yet it was felt by every thinking man in the province that it would be a retrograde step, which would throw back the country to nearly the same positions as it occupied before the union, — that it would lower the credit enjoyed by United Canada, — that it would be the breaking up of the connection which had existed for nearly a quarter of a century, and under which, although it had not been completely successful, and had not allayed altogether the local jealousies that had their root in circumstances which arose before the union, our province, as a whole, had nevertheless prospered and increased. It was felt that a dissolution of the union would have destroyed all the credit that we had gained by being a united province, and would have left us two weak and ineffective governments, instead of one powerful and united people. (Hear, hear.) The next mode suggested, was the granting of representation by population. Now, we all know the manner in which that question was and is regarded by Lower Canada; that while in Upper Canada the desire and cry for it was daily augmenting, the resistance to it in Lower Canada was proportionably increasing in strength. Still, if some such means of relieving us from the sectional jealousies which existed between the two Canadas, if some such solution of the difficulties as Confederation had not been found, the representation by population must eventually have been carried; no matter though it might have been felt in Lower Canada, as being a breach of the Treaty of Union, no matter how much it might have been felt by the Lower Canadians that it would sacrifice their local interests, it is certain that in the progress of events representation by population would have been carried; and, had it been carried — I speak here my own individual sentiments — I do not think it would have been for the interest of Upper Canada. For though Upper Canada would have felt that it had received what it claimed as a right, and had succeed in establishing its right, yet it would have left the Lower Province with a sullen feeling of injury and injustice. The Lower Canadians would not have worked cheerfully under such a change of system, but would have ceased to be what they are now — a nationality with representatives in Parliament, governed by general principles, and dividing according to their political opinions — and would have been in great danger of becoming a faction, forgetful of national obligations, and only actuated by a desire to defend their own sectional interests, their own laws, and their own institutions (Hear, hear.)


George Étienne Cartier, 1871. Source: Library and Archives Canada, PA-025472.

[Pages 53-55]

Atty. Gen. CARTIER (Link to Bio) rose to continue the debate on Confederation. He said that he approached this subject with a certain amount of diffidence, knowing it was not the first time he had had the honor of speaking upon it in the Lower Provinces and elsewhere. He felt that this was a momentous occasion, as for anything that he said on this grave question, he was responsible to his constituents and the country… He did not intend to go into the details of the question of Confederation, but merely to bring before the House the most conspicuous arguments in order to induce members to accept the resolutions submitted by the Government. Confederation was, as it were, at this moment almost forced upon us. We could not shut our eyes to what was going on beyond the lines, where a great struggle was going on between two Confederacies, at one time forming but one Confederacy. We say that a government, established not more than 80 years ago, had not been able to keep together the family of states which had broke up four or five years since. We could not deny that the struggle now in progress must necessarily influence our political existence. We did not know what would be the result of that great war — whether it would end in the establishment of two Confederacies or in one as before. However, we had to do with five colonies, inhabited by men of the same sympathies and interests, and in order to become a great nation they required only to be brought together under one General Government. The matter resolved itself into this, either we must obtain British North American Confederation or be absorbed in an American Confederation. (Hear, hear, and dissent.) Some entertained the opinion that it was unnecessary to have British North American Confederation to prevent absorption into the vortex of American Confederation. Such parties were mistake. We knew the policy of England towards us — that she was determined to help and support us in any struggle with our neighbors. The British Provinces, separated as at present, could not defend themselves alone, and the question resolved itself into this: shall the whole strength of the empire be concentrated into Prince Edward Island, or Canada, as the case may be, in case of a war with the United States — or shall the provinces beleft to fight single-handed, disunited? We were not sufficiently united. We had our duties, with regard to England, to perform. In order to secure the exercise of her power in our defence we must help her ourselves. We could not do this satisfactorily or efficiently unless we had a Confederation. When all united, the enemy would know that, if he attacked any part of those provinces — Prince Edward Island or Canada — he would have to encounter the combined strength of the empire. Canada, separate, would be, although comparatively strong in population and wealth, in a dangerous position should a war ensue. When we had organized our good defensive force, and united for mutual protection, England would send freely here both men and treasure for our defence. (Cheers).


Antoine Aimé Dorion, 1873. Source: Library and Archives Canada, PA-025382.

[Page 245-248]

Hon. Mr. DORION (Link to Bio), in resuming the adjourned debate on Confederation, said — I should have desired to make my remarks to the House in French, but considering the large number of honorable members who are not familiar with that language, I think it my duty to speak at the present time in English. In rising on this occasion to address the House on the important question submitted to us, I must say I do so with an unusual degree of embarrassment, not only on account of the importance of the subject of our deliberations, but also because I have to differ from many of those with whom I have been in the habit of acting ever since I first entered into political life. Yet, Mr. SPEAKER, when I consider the questions raised by the resolutions submitted by the Government, I find that whether they be purely political ones, such as the proposal to restrict the influence and control of the people over the Legislature of the country by substituting a Chamber nominated by the Crown for an Elective Legislative Council, or whether they are purely commercial in their character, such as that regarding the Intercolonial Railway, or the larger question of Confederation itself, I still hold the same views that I held, in common with others who have now changed their opinions, when the subjects were first mooted. (Hear, hear) And as I have not heard, since the first opening of this debate, any reason for substituting a nominated for an elective Upper Chamber that was not fully argued out in 1856, when, by an overwhelming majority of this House, it was decided that the elective principle should prevail — as I have not heard any reason why we should pledge our credit and resources to the construction of the Intercolonial Railway, even previous to any estimate of its cost being made, that was not urged in 1862 when the question was before the country — nor any reason for intercolonial union that was not raised in 1858, when the present Hon. Finance Minister pressed the question on the attention of the Imperial authorities — I do not see on what ground these several subjects which were then so unpopular, and those views which were then almost universally repudiated, should now be more favorably considered by the people of this country — I fail to perceive why those once unpalatable measures, now coupled with additions to the purdens of the people, should have grown into the public favor. I cannot understand why I or any members of this House should change our views merely because certain other members have, when we do not conscientiously think such change would be for the benefit of the country. I say, sir, that i am quite entitled to maintain the same views now that I have always entertained. (Hear.) This scheme, sir, is submitted to us on two grounds; first, the necessity for meeting the constitutional difficulties which have arisen between Upper and Lower Canada, owing to the growing demands on the part of Upper Canada for representation by population; and, secondly the necessity for providing more efficient means for the defence of the country than now exist. These are the only two grounds we have heard stated for the propositions now submitted to us; and, sir, I shall apply myself to explain my views on these two subjects, and also upon the scheme generally. When on the first question, I trust I shall be permitted to go a little into the history of the agitations of representation by population, for I owe it to myself, to my constituents and the country. My name has been used in various ways. It has sometimes been said that I was entirely favorable to representation by population — at other times that I was entirely favorable to the Confederation of the provinces, and I will now endeavor, once more, to state as clearly as possible what my real views have been and still are. (Hear.) The first time representation by populations was mooted in this House, on behalf of Upper Canada, was, I believe, in the Session of 1852, when the Conservative party took it up, and the Hon. Sir ALLAN MACNAB moved resolutions in favor of the principle. We then found the conservatives arrayed in support of this constitutional change. It had been mooted before on behalf of Lower Canada, but the Upper Canadians had all opposed it. I think two botes were taken in 1852, and on one of these occasions the Hon. Attorney General West (Hon. J.A. MACDONALD) voted for it; it came up incidentally. In 1854 the MACNAB-MORIN coalition took place, and we heard no more of representation by population from that quarter — that is, as mooted by the Conservative party, who from that moment uniformly opposed it on every occasion. It was, however, taken up by the present Hon. President of the Council, the member for South Oxford, and with the energy and vigor he brings to bear on every question he takes in hand, he caused such an agitation in its behalf as almost threatened a revolution. As the agitation in the country increased, so did the vote for it in this House increase, and on several occasions I expressed my views upon the subject. I never shirked the question — I never hesitated to say that something ought to be done to meet the just claims of Upper Canada, and that representation based on population was in the abstract a just and correct principle. I held, at the same time, there were reasons why Lower Canada could not grant it; I entreated Lower Canadian representatives to show themselves disposed to meet the views of Upper Canada by making, at any rate, a counter proposition; and in 1856, when Parliament was sitting in Toronto, I, for the first time, suggested that one means of getting over the difficulty would be to substitute for the present Legislative union a Confederation fo the two Canadas, but means of which all local questions could be consigned to the deliberations of local legislatures, with all central government having control of commercial and other questions of common or general interest. I stated that, considering the different religious faith, the different language, the different laws that prevailed in the two sections of the country, this was the best way to meet the difficulty; to leave to a general government questions of trade, currency, banking, public works of a general character, &c., and to commit to the decision of local legislatures all matters of a local bearing. At the same time I stated that, if these views should not prevail, I would certainly go for representation by population, and such checks and guarantees as would secure the interests of each section of the country, and preserve to Lower Canada its cherished institutions. (Hear, hear.) This speech, sir, has been twisted in all sorts of ways. I have heard it quoted to prove that I was in favor of representation by population, pure and simple; that I was in favor of a Confederation of the provinces and for several other purposes, just as it suited the occasion or the purpose of those who quoted it. (Hear and laughter.) The first time the matter was put to a practical test was in 1858. On the resignation of the MACDONALD-CARTIER Administration, the BROWN-DORION Government was formed, and one of the agreements made between its members was that the constitutional question should be taken up and settled, either by a Confederation of the two provinces or by representation according to population, with such checks and guarantees as would secure the religious faith, the laws, the laws, the language, and the peculiar institutions of each section of the country from encroachments on the part of the other… I still think that a Federal union of Canada might hereafter extend so as to embrace other territories either west of east; that such a system is well adapted to admit of territorial expansion without any disturbance of the federal economy, but I cannot understand how this plain sentence should be considered by the Hon. President of the Council, or by other hon. members who have spoken in the other House, as any indication that I have ever been in favor of Confederation with the other British Provinces. There is nothing I have ever said or written that can be construed to mean that I was ever in favor of such a proposition. On the contrary, whenever the question came up I set my face against it. I asserted that such a confederation could only bring trouble and embarrassment, that there was no social, no commercial connection between the provinces proposed to be united — nothing to justify their union at the present juncture. Of course I do not say that I shall be opposed to their Confederation for all time to come. Population may extend over the wilderness that now lies between the Maritime Provinces and ourselves, and commercial intercourse may increase sufficiently to render Confederation desirable. My speeches have been paraded of late in all the ministerial papers — misconstrued, mistranslated, falsified in every way — for the purpose of making the public believe that in former times I held different views from those I now do. A French paper has said that I called with all my heart for the Confederation of the provinces — (que j’appelais de tous mes veux la confederation des provinces) But I say here, as I said in 1856, and as I said in 1861 also, that I am opposed to this Confederation now.

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