Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part I: Chapter XXIX. Confederation


It had been for some time evident that under the legislative system which had existed since the union of Upper and Lower Canada, sequent deadlocks were inevitable, and that some new basis for the Constitution must be sought elsewhere. In the session of 1864 the Sandfield Macdonald Government had received the full support of Mr. George Brown, and of the Liberal party, which regarded him as their leader, and his newspaper as their organ and standard. Tired of the endless party wrangling that had impeded all useful legislation, that Government resigned—a mistake, as it has always seemed to many Reformers, in political tactics. To them succeeded the Tache-Macdoriald Government, which led a hand-to-mouth existence from day to day on the sufferance ot Parliament, and in virtue of a majority of two. From this feeble Administration Mr. Brown succeeded in obtaining a Committee to "consider the best means of settling the constitutional changes which might be recommended, to avoid trouble." The Committee adopted and presented to Parliament a report in favour of "a federation system, applied either to Canada or to the whole of the British North American Provinces." John A. Macdonald was foremost in opposing the adoption of the report. But next day the decrepid Conservatives fell into one of those pitfalls which their leaders have so often unwittingly prepared for the downfall of their own popularity. It "came out"—how many such things have "come out" since John A. Macdonald has been leader of the Conservatives—that A. T. Galt, Finance Minister in the Cartier-Macdonald Government, had, without the sanction of Parliament, lent $100,000 to the Grand Trunk Railway corporation. This of course inculpated, as they themselves did not attempt to deny, the whole of the Cabinet. Mr. Dorion moved a vote of want of confidence in this helpless Ministry, the two members whose votes alone sustained them ;n office having become hostile at this critical moment. What use did George Brown, for in those days George Brown and Canadian Liberalism were convertible terms, make of tihis signal victory? His bitter political foes lay at his mercy in humiliating defeat. A less high-minded statesman would have thought of party, if not of personal objects. George Brown was above both considerations, and thought only of the opportunity now ready to his hand of carrying into effect the federation system which he and he alone had desired, which above all else he wished to see carried into effect, even if the glory of its achievement should accrue to the Conservatives, who till the previous day had been its bitterest opponents.

Immediately after the Ministerial defeat Mr. Brown sought an interview with J. H. Pope and Alexander Morris, Conservative members of the House. He did this after consultation with his principal friends and supporters, as to how far the Reform party would consent to forego mere personal and party advantage in order to ensure the carrying out of a constitutional change of great benefit to the country. He conferred next with Messieurs Pope and Morris of the Reform party, the French Canadian Reformers refused to follow his self-sacrificing course in this matter, preferring the ordinary course of party triumph on the defeat of opponents. Mr George Brown was grieved at this defection of his so long faithful allies, out he would not for that reason swerve from the path of patriotic duty.

In consequence of the conversation between Mr. Brown and Messieurs Morris and Pope, interviews took place between the Reform leader and members representing the defeated Government. John A. Macdonald exhibited a highly characteristic willingness to get his Government strengthened by a coalition, there being no other possibility of prolonging its existence, and proposed, with what motive it is easy to guess, that George Brown should himself become a member of the Cabinet. But the Father of Confederation was too wary to act with precipitation, and proposed that all personal matters should be postponed for the present.

On Mr. Brown asking what remedy the Government proposed, to do away with the present system of injustice to English Canada, Messieurs Macdonald and Gait stated that they proposed as the remedy a federal union of all the British North American Provinces, local matters being committed to local bodies, and matters common to all, to a Federal Government. It will be remembered that but two days before John A. Macdonald had voted directly against the proposal for a Federation of the Provinces. Truly, the conversion was sudden, and the neophyte zealous. In reply, Mr. Brown objected, not to the adoption of Federation, which had been his own ideal from the first, but to its too great remoteness and uncertainty, as a means of settling the injustice of which English Canada complained. As a more prompt measure, he asked for representation by population for all Canada, with no dividing hue. But ultimately a compromise was arrived at, on the adoption of the principle of Federation for all the Provinces, as the larger question, or for Canada alone, with provision for the admission of the Maritime Provinces and the North-West Territory. A general accord was reached, on the basis that as the views of Upper Canada could not be met under the present system, the remedy must be sought in the adoption of the federal principle. As a guarantee to the Reform party, three seats were to be placed at the disposal of Mr. Brown and two of his friends. Parliament was now at once prorogued, and on the same day, the Hon. George Brown entered the Government as President of the Council, supported by the able but unstable Hon. William McDougall, as Provincial Secretary, and by the far more able and high principled Hon. Oliver Mowat, as Postmaster-General. The Hon. A. Mackenzie, in his "Life of the Hon. George Brown" frankly states that the appointment of Mr. McDougall was one desired by very few of the party. During the ensuing summer the various members of the new Coalition Government made a general tour of the Provinces, and held a convention of the Provincial delegates n October at Quebec. Parliament met early in 1865. The debate which ensued was one of the most remarkable which had, as yet, taken place n a Canadian Legislature. Of the two great changes which had been effected in the constitution of our country, the first, in 1791, had been altogether the work of the English Parliament, where its details gave rise to one of the most memorable debates of a great Parliamentary Assembly. The union of the Canadas in 1841 was also both planned and put into practical form by British statesmen, the consent of the Canadian Legislatures being but a form, and a form which, in the case of the French Canadian, was very summarily dispensed with. But the inception, the adoption, and the practical working out of the Confederation Scheme was entirely the work of our own Canadian statesmen; and the debating powers displayed when this question came before the Legislature were said to show a very marked advance iti political insight and breadth of view from that shown in any previous discussions in the records of our Legislatures. A few years of that Home Rule which results from Responsible Government had already proved a political education. The leading speeches, those of Messieurs Brown, Macdonald, and Carrier, in support of the measure; those of Messieurs John Sandfield Macdonald, Huntington, Dorion and Holton, against it; the very exhaustive and luminous criticism with which Mr. Dunkin's remarkable oration examined its bearings from every side, are well put forward and accompanied with much apt comment in the Hon. John H. Gray's important historical work on Confederation—only the first volume of which unfortunately has been given to the public. John A. Macdonald's speech on this question was one of those rare oratorical successes which came on a few great occasions from one who had hitherto been regarded, even by those who knew him most intimately, simply as an adroit debater, a matchless Parliamentary whipper-in, and a retailer of obscene bar-room jests. More logical, more incisive, far more effective with thinking men, was the speech of the real founder of Confederation, George Brown. But the most remarkable of all the addresses delivered on this memorable occasion was that of Mr. Dunkin, Colonel Gray's criticism of which must be regarded by the impartial historian as utterly beside the facts. Colonel Gray says: "All that a well-read public man, all that a thorough sophist, a dexterous logician, a timid patriot, or a prophet of evil could array against the project, was brought up and pressed against the scheme." Of course Colonel Gray regarded Confederation as the be-all and end-all of Canadian politics. Later students of Canadian political history, who see that difficulties have been left unprovided for, the distribution of authority between Federal and Provincial Governments unsettled, and a way left open to vast financial abuses, will see that Mr. Dunkin was right is supposing that the settlement effected by Confederation was no more a final one than that of the Union of the Canadas, or of the Act which created English Canada in 1791. A remarkable speech in favour of the proposed measure was also delivered on this occasion by Mr. Walter Shanly, member for South Grenville. On Friday, March 10thi, the debate had exhausted itself, and the Hon. John A. Macdonald proposed the following motion:—"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 uniting the colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland, n one Government, with provisions based on certain resolutions, which were adopted by a conference of delegates from the said Provinces held at Quebec on the 16th of October, 1865. After some further debate this resolution was carried by a vote of 91 to 33. The wish of John A. Macdonald in navigating the measure which he had with such consummate dexterity stolen from its legitimate author through the shoals of Parliamentary debate, was well understood to have been to centralize power as much as possible m the Federal Government, leaving the Provincial Legislatures in the position of mere municipal councils. This was in thorough harmony with John A. Macdonald's political character, his insatiate greed for power, and that clinging to every exercise of personal authority which makes him delay conferring an official appointment, even upon a personal friend. But in this matter he was, to a certain extent, backed up b\ a feeling on the part of all those engaged in the work of political reconstruction, that Canada ought to take warning by what had recently seemed likely to be the break-down of the United States Constitution. It was thought, most erroneously, that what had caused the strain was the weakness of the central Federal authority. In reality the reverse was the case. The war was caused by one faction only, the opposition to slavery on the part of Mr. Lincoln's Cabinet. That Cabinet was unhke a Canadian one, utterly unrestricted in 'ts exercise of authority. John A. Macdonald did not on the occasion of the inception of Confederation succeed in his wish of sowing the dragon's teeth of constitutional mischief, but never since then has he lost sight of his centralizing propensities, or neglected an opportunity to trample on Provincial Rights. A similar motion was introduced in the Legislative Council by Sir E, P. Tache, and carried by a vote of three to one.

In April Messrs. John A. Macdonald, Galt, Brown and Cartier made a visit to England, in order to confer with the Irnperal Government, and arrange the final details of the scheme of Confederation. Meantime the feeling of the Maritime Provinces was increasingly manifested against the proposed Confederation. In Nova Scotia the opposing issues were advocated by two of the. ablest orators that British America has produced, by Dr. Charles Tupper, erewhile a druggist at Amherst, and by Joseph Howe, a Halifax printer, being the ideal and representative man of his native Province. New Brunswick, ever cautious and reserved in her isolation from the rest of English speaking Canada, dreaded increased taxation. The little Province of Prince Edward Island held aloof, and the bleak cod-fishing banks-of inhospitable Newfoundland withdrew into their native bay. When in England, the Canadian delegates held conference after conference with the Imperial Ministers on the proposed measures, on the question of treaties and legislation, the defences of Canada, the settlement of the North-West Territories, and the claims for compensation put forward by the Hudson's Bay Company. And as one of the most cogent arguments put forward by the opponents of Confederation in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick was that tiie aim of those who forwarded that measure was to effect the independence of Canada, and the severance of all connection with England, the Canadian delegates pressed on the British Cabinet the desirability of a strong expression from the Home Government in favour of Confederation being conveyed to the Governments of the Maritime Provinces. It is a curious comment on the change that has come over public opinion, that in 1865 the mere mention of independence should have been regarded as offensive. Strong representations in favour of Confederation were accordingly transmitted from the English Ministry to the Governments of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, a step which, curiously enough, drew forth from the anti-Confederationists many bitter expressions of what might most justly have been described as "disloyalty," and the British authorities were roundly denounced for attempting " an odious system of coercion of the colonies into the hateful bund. It required all the arts of which John A. Macdonald is so justly reputed a consummate master to induce the recalcitrant Maritimes to fall into line. This, however, was at last effected, and the long disjointed pieces of the Canadian fishing-rod at last received that accession of strength which comes from union. Of all the able speeches delivered on this question, the most remarkable is one delivered by the lion. George Brown, a passage from which may well be quoted as an example of how this important constitutional change was regarded by the first of Canadian Liberal statesmen, and by one who held no second place either as an orator or writer. "I venture to assert that no scheme of equal magnitude ever placed before the world was received with higher eulogiurns, with more universal approbation, than the measure we have now the pleasure of submitting for the acceptance of the Canadian Parliament. And no higher eulogy could, I think, be pronounced than that I heard a few weeks ago from one of the foremost of British statesmen, that the system of Government now proposed seemed to him a happy compound of the best features of the British and American constitutions. And well might our present attitude in Canada arrest the attention of other countries. Here is a people composed of distinct races, speaking different languages, with religious and social and municipal and educational institutions wholly different; with sectional hostilities of such a character as to render Government for many years well nigh impossible; with a constitution so unjust in the view of one section as to justify every resort to enforce a remedy. And yet, here we sit, patiently and temperately discussing how these great evils and hostilities may justly and amicably be swept away for ever. We are endeavouring to adjust harmoniously greater difficulties than have plunged other countries into all the horrors of civil war. We are striving to do peaceably and satisfactorily what Holland and Belgium, after years of sti de, were unable to accomplish. We are seeking, by calm discussion, to settle questions that Austria and Hungary, that Denmark and Germany, that Russia and Poland, could only crush by the ron hand of armed force. We are seeking to do, without foreign intervention, that which deluged 'n blood the sunny plains of Italy ; we are striving to settle for ever issues hardly less momentous than those that have rent the neighbouring republic, and are now exposing it to all the horrors of civil war. Have not, then, great cause for thankfulness, that we have found a better way for the solution of our troubles than that which has entailed on other countries such deplorable results? and should not every one of us endeavour to rise to the magnitude of the occasion, and earnestly seek to deal with this question to the end in the same candid and conciliatory spirit in which, so far, it has been discussed? The scene presented by this chamber at this moment, I venture to affirm, has few parallels in history. One hundred years have passed away since these provinces became, by force, part of the British Empire. I speak in no boastful spirit, I desire not for a moment to excite a painful thought; what was then the fortune of war of the brave French nation, might have been ours on that well-fought held. 1 recall those olden times merely to mark the fact that here sit to-day the descendants of the victors and the vanquished in the fight of 1759, with all the differences of language, religion, civil law, and social habit, nearly as distinctly marked as they were a century ago; here we sit to-day seeking amicably to find a remedy for constitutional evils and injustice complained of—by the vanquished? no—but complained of by the conquerors'! Here sit the representatives of the British population claiming justice! only justice! And here sit the representatives of the French population discussing in the French tongue whether we shall have it. One hundred years have passed away since the conquest of Quebec, but here sit the children of the victors and the vanquished, also avowing hearty attachment to the British Crown, all earnestly deliberating how we should best extend the blessings of British institutions—how a great people may be established on this continent in close and hearty connection with Great Britain. Where, m the page of history, shall we find a parallel for this?"

Some disturbance of the amicable relations between the parties to the coalition was caused by the death of the Premier, Sir Etienne P. Tache, and the accession to the position of Sir Narcisse Belleau. Mr. Brown and the Reformers, however, thought it their duty to acquiesce.

The last Canadian Parliament opened in August at Quebec, and was occupied altogether with receiving the report of the delegates to England. The Government measure for Confederation was carried by overwhelming majorities. -It was loyally supported by Mr. Brown and the Liberals, although that gentleman, whom the Tory tacticians vainly endeavoured to decry, having been studiously slighted when on a mission to Washington upon the reciprocity question, had thought it due to his own dignity to withdraw from the Government. Thus was this great change accomplished —a vast step in advance towards independence, although as passing events show more clearly every day, it cannot be regarded as a final one. The Hon. A. Mackenzie well observes (Life of Hon. George Brown, p. 107): "The first day of July, 1867, saw the great reform accomplished for which Mr. Brown had toiled so many years, and saw also that the Conservatives who opposed it to the last were reaping the fruits of their opponent's labour. Therefore. Mr. Macdonald would be able to boast that he was the father of Confederation on the same ground that he boasted of carrying the measure to secularize the Clergy Reserve lands. Me strongly opposed both measures, on principle, as long as it was possible to do so, and then joined the man who initiated and carried on the movement of both, and declared the work was all his own. Having no great work of his own to boast of, he bravely plucks the laurel from the brows of the actual combatants and real victors, and fastens it on his own head.


Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus