Canadian Confederation Essay

This essay has a total of 3888 words and 15 pages.

Canadian Confederation


In the year of 1867 the nation we know as Canada came into being. The Confederation in
this year only came about after things had been overcome. Many political and economic
pressures were exerted on the colonies and a federal union of the colonies seemed to be
the most practical method of dealing with these pressures and conflicts. While
Confederation was a solution to many of the problems, it was not a popular one for all the
colonies involved. In the Maritime colonies views differed widely on the topic. Some were
doubtful, some were pleased, others were annoyed and many were hopeful for a prosperous
future.1

It was the initiative of the Maritime Provinces that first created the concept of union.
Leaders of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia had been discussing the
possibility of a Maritime union for many years. Lieutenant Governor Arthur Hamilton Gordon
and Leonard Tilley of New Brunswick, Premier Charles Tupper of Nova Scotia and Colonel
Gray and W.H Pope of Prince Edward Island were all advocates of the concept of maritime
union for solutions to the problems which they were encountering.2

Trade was important to the Maritimes. Up to 1846 Britain had provided the British North
American colonies with a market for their goods, but then began a policy of free trade.
Because there were no tariffs placed on any country the colonies lost a sure market for
their goods. Many colonists were concerned that some might consider union with the United
States and the British North American colonies was brisk with large amounts of lumber and
grain being imported by the U.S. When the Americans ended the Reciprocity Treaty in 1865,
many Maritimers became uneasy about the economic future. It became apparent that in order
to develop thriving trade; new economic links would have to be developed. 3

George Coles, a persistent politician, insisted that Prince Edward Island was not being
provided with strong leadership, Gray was forced to drop the topic of Confederation. To
the Islanders, a government dominated by Upper and Lower had little appeal. A colony as
small as Prince Edward Island would have very few representatives in a federal government.
They were not prepared to pay taxes to build an Intercolonial Railway, which could not run
on their island. Islanders also opposed Confederation over the issue of absentee
landlords. Their dislike of the landlords in Britain, they felt, would only be replaced by
the dislike of landlords in Britain, they felt, would only be replaced by a dislike of a
dislike of landlords in Ottawa. By 1865 Prince Edward Island had turned down the
Confederation plan.

The people of Newfoundland were no more enthusiastic about the idea of a large Union.
Newfoundland had always maintained close ties with Britain, having more in common with
them than the people in Western Canada. Although the pro-Confederation people argued that
financial benefits for the struggling fisheries would result, most Newfoundlanders could
not understand how that could happen, instead they feared heavy taxes and an involvement
in a possible battle between Canada and the United States. The Newfoundland government did
not even bring the Confederation idea to vote. Newfoundland would maintain its status quo.

If the Maritime colonies had been able to isolate themselves, they could have lived
contentedly for a long period of time, but other pressures would force Maritimers to
reconsider Confederation. One of these outside pressures was the support Great Britain was
giving to this idea of Confederation in British North America. Great Britain no longer
wanted to be concerned with nor did they wish to provide the financial assistance to
support Canada in any war.

By the 1860's railways were being hailed as an answer to economic problems. Those people
in the Maritimes who supported Confederation argued that a transcontinental railway would
improve among the colonies and would also help to unify the country. Goods could be moved
much more efficiently throughout the colonies. The isolation of the Maritimes from Upper
and Lower Canada would be broken, Joseph Howe of Nova Scotia was one of the keen
supporters of an Intercolonial Railway from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but while it was
an exciting concept even Howe realized that no colonial government could ever afford the
task. However the Maritime leaders felt that if they could unite into one province, they
could produce a strong government that could afford to complete its own railway.

While the Maritimers wondered if they could unite to solve all their economic problems,
they became more afraid of incidents that were occurring in the United States. In recent
years the United States had taken over a great deal of land in North America. During the
war of 1812 the Americans had invaded and occupied parts of the colonies. After the
rebellions of 1837 a number of border raids on Canadian settlements had taken place. Now
in the 1860's the American Civil War was raging and it appeared that the North would be
the winner over the South. Since Britain was a supporter of the South, would the North, if
victorious over the British in the South, attack the British colonies in the Maritimes and
Upper Canada? The concept of confederation seemed to offer the possibility of creating a
unity against the threat of an American invasion.

Another issue that would be directly affected by the concept of Confederation was the one
of political deadlock because of language and religion between Upper and Lower Canada.
While this was not a significant issue to Maritimers, it provided the governments of Upper
and Lower Canada with a desire to interest the Maritime colonies in a British North
American Union. In 1864when John A. MacDonald and George-Etienne Cartier announced that
their deadly political enemies George Brown and his Reformers were joining them in a
coalition government the wider consideration of the union of all of British North America
would naturally follow.

On September 1, 1864 the first Confederation conference was called to discuss the idea of
Maritime Union. It was agreed that it would be held in Charlotte, Prince Edward Island
because Islanders would not be interested enough to attend a Conference any where else.4

Islanders cared little about the Conference or the scheme that was about to be discussed.
Most islanders were prosperous and content. They felt that in a central government located
in Upper Canada, their small island would have very little representation. They also did
not to a solution to their age old problem of absentee landlordism; landlords in Upper
Canada did not differ a great deal from landlords in Britain.5 Recognizing the presence of
this opposition, Tupper wrote to Tilley " I confess I have a strong impression that our
difficulty is likely to be with the Island and that our presence there would not do any
harm."6 When the Great Coalition learned of this Conference they asked for and received an
invitation to attend. Fifteen delegates from Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New
Brunswick attended. Newfoundland sent no one to the meeting as they had little interest in
uniting with anyone. Newfoundland was experiencing destitute conditions; the fishing
industry was in decline and the agriculture and timber trades were facing difficulties.
Upper Canada seemed much farther away from them than did England. Accordingly,
Newfoundlers were in indifferent to the idea of the union.7 Maritimers postponed their
discussion of Maritime Union until the delegates from Upper and Lower Canada presented
their views on a much larger Union. John A. MacDonald, George Cartier, Alexander Galt and
George Brown presented their case for a federation; which would consist of two levels of
government: one central government would govern the entire country while each province
would maintain its own identity with its own local government. The Canadians did their
best to convince the Maritimers that their plan would work for the benefit of all and that
all they had to do was to agree to future meetings to work on the formation of a new
nation.8 The Maritimers were more skeptical. "It was only too clear that their distrust of
the Canadians, their doubts about federalism and their defensive attitude towards their
own plan of legislative union were all potent forces working against confederation in the
Maritime provinces".9 Throughout five days of meetings and lavish social events the
Maritimers concluded that it might be a more practical idea to discuss a federal union and
that at worst they had not much to loose. "Yet despite all this Maritmers showed, again
and again, that they could not help but feel that their ultimate destiny lay in British
North American union. Even the sharpest critics of the Canadian plan admitted that
everybody had dreamed of a future when the British possessions in America should become a
great nation."10 When the Charlottetown Conference adjourned on September 6 the Maritimers
had accepted an invitation to attend an official conference on Confederation in Quebec.11

The Quebec Conference began on October 10, lasted for two weeks and was attended by not
only delegates from the three Maritime provinces but also two delegates from Newfoundland,
who had come to observe the proceedings and to decide whether their colony should be urged
to join the union. Politicians from Upper and Lower Canada spent two weeks arguing and
debating over complicated issues such as the divisions of powers and regional
representation in a federal government. The delegates produced Seventy-two resolutions,
also known as the Quebec resolutions, which were a plan of the political structure of a
new nation. The new structure would have a federal union, with the capital located in
Ottawa. While many of the English speaking delegates from Upper Canada and Lower Canada
and the Maritimes would have preferred a legislative union, they generally realized that
the French Canadians would never agree to one level of government for the whole nation for
they would lose control of their language and culture.12 Maritimers too were reluctant to
lose their own provincial assemblies. The central government would be the House of Commons
where members would be elected based on the concept "representation according to
population". The other part of the Parliament would be the Senate where members would be
appointed on a regional basis by the Governor General on the Advice of the Prime Minister.
The Senate was to be set up in order to protect the rights of the smaller provinces and
act as a check on the power of the House of Commons. There was much discussion over the
division of powers between the provinces and the central government. John A. MacDonald was
determined to relinquish as little power to the provinces possible and as a result
insisted that the central government maintain the right to disallow any legislation passed
by a provincial government. These Seventy-two Resolutions were simply an outline to be
used as the basis of any formation of a federal union. The plan would be the subject of
many debates in each of the colonies. Yet the concept of Confederation could not proceed
until each colonial government would approve it. This approval would not be easily
obtained in any of the colonies and although the largest percentage of the population of
British North America live in Upper Canada and Lower Canada, Confederation would not occur
without Atlantic Canada.

In the Maritimes opposition to Confederation was keen, some because they were opposed to
Confederation on any terms and others because they disliked some of the terms in the
Quebec resolutions. Generally people of the Atlantic colonies felt little in common with
the people in Upper and Lower Canada. They regarded the government which existed in the
Provinces of Canada as almost an unworkable one since it was now faced with political
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