Fathers of Confederation

[Cartier speaks of promises made to the English-speaking minority of Quebec before Confederation, now delivered with a reformed education bill for Quebec. Cartier praises the liberality of French-Canadians, saying in these issues “it was not a question of majority or minority; it was a question of fairness. It was not about knowing who was strongest, but who would be most fair, by allowing everyone the freedom to pray God as they see fit.” The speech illustrates the double-trust between Cartier and Alexander Galt required to carry out Confederation. As Cartier declares, working to return to Quebec its historic legislature and provincial government, he depended on a certain openness: “The seat I occupied back then is not very far from this one. I made promises from that seat. I told Protestants: 'Have no fear; my compatriots will treat you with all fairness.' I am therefore happy to see that my promise was fulfilled.” The speech also contains a noteworthy aphorism characteristic of Cartier’s boldness and optimism in life: “We must not always look at the darker sides of our lives. If there is a ray of sunshine, then let us look at that ray of sunshine, just as we look at darkness.”]

Mr. Speaker,

I very much regret not having been able to attend last year’s session. Though absent, I was able to follow the progress of all legislation. And if I did not have the honour and benefit of contributing to it, on the other side of the Atlantic, I am at the very least tremendously satisfied with the work that was done.

There was one issue in the former House that drew my interest in particular, an issue contemplated from all sides, with hope by some and fear by others. I was happy to see it was settled as it should have been during the last session. The issue I am speaking of is public education for the different religious denominations.

While I was explaining the foundations of Confederation in this very chamber, to restore to the old Province of Quebec the privileges it had lost, I depended on this openness. The seat I occupied back then is not very far from this one. I made promises from that seat. I told Protestants: “Have no fear; my compatriots will treat you with all fairness.”

I am therefore happy to see that my promise was fulfilled. And now, if I may be bold, I will say that French Canadian Catholics have always been tolerant towards other beliefs. It was not a question of majority or minority; it was a question of fairness. It was not about knowing who was strongest, but who would be most fair, by allowing everyone the freedom to pray God as they see fit.

I remember that, back then, some people used to say: “Why give Protestants in Lower Canada benefits that Protestants in Upper Canada won’t give Catholics?” To which I would answer: “Let us do what is right. If we believe our compatriots should enjoy full religious freedom, then we should give it to them. It will be up to others to follow our example and do their duty.”

We had to treat Protestants with the greatest openness, so that Catholics could then tell Protestants: “That is what we’ve done.” Besides, each individual must have full religious freedom, and minorities must be treated like individuals in this regard.

I am pleased to see that the address mentions the great question of colonization roads. If we look back sixty years, we would all agree that the great colonization works begun two years ago should have happened long ago.

When we became an English colony, we were 65,000 souls at most. And from that time until the Act of Union, never did we do so much to improve and colonize our domain as we did during the two last years.

Much has been said about the progress of Ontario. We should be happy about this. But we must first note that when the former province of Quebec had its legislature, it had no grants for colonization. In 1852, the legislature turned down a loan of a million pounds for colonization. The same offer was made to Upper Canada, which accepted it and undertook major road building and canal works on Lake Simcoe and Lake Ontario, among others.

So what happened? While Upper Canada got into debt, it was improving its internal situation. Lower Canada had a surplus, but did not enjoy any improvements. One day, Lower Canada was asked to help eliminate Upper Canada’s deficit and pay off its debt. That is when Upper Canada gained its first advantage over Lower Canada.

But Upper Canada received other advantages. When clergy lands were secularized, Upper Canada gained possession of a huge quantity of them. Moreover, Upper Canada used its entire share of the Municipal Loan Fund, growing wealthier as it built new roads. Lower Canada only obtained a few hundred thousand acres of secularized lands. It received about one-hundred thousand Louis, whereas Upper Canada got three million.

Upper Canada enjoys a better climate, and its soil is of slightly better quality. It did not have to deal with the inconvenience of seigniorial tenure, which caused so many battles in Lower Canada. If we had not had to sacrifice four million to free ourselves from tenure, we would now have the benefit of those four million, either in ready money or in improvements. We would therefore be able to rival with Upper Canada.

I am surprised that our population was able to increase even with these disadvantages. We are launching a great undertaking, and we will see its effects later on.

We must not always look at the darker sides of our lives. If there is a ray of sunshine, then let us look at that ray of sunshine, just as we look at darkness.

Where the country’s prosperity is concerned, the great issue has to do with finances. I approve the Honourable Mr. Joly, when he says we must be cautious; but I approve the Honourable Mr. Chauveau, when he says that the best policy for a government is not to have a lot of extra money but to use its money to good advantage.

I was happy to see the testimonials of dedication and respect that greeted the Queen’s son. If there is one province that should honour Prince Arthur, that province is Quebec, since it had the honour to be home to his grandfather. I would like to recall a memory regarding personal knowledge I have of about the Duke of Kent.

An eminently distinguished man, Mr. Joseph Bouchette, had done a great deal of work on the topography and geography of the country. This man was really ahead of his time. He provided the public with a mass of information, which has remained the basis of geographical knowledge in Canada.

This very talented man, who was short of resources, appealed to the legislature, but he was unable to get assistance. He had met the Duke of Kent, who pointed him towards England; and thanks to the Duke’s protection, he was able to publish his three volumes, whose infinite value is acknowledged today, and which helped launch the development of our country’s resources.

The address very appropriately refers to the divine protection that has looked over and helped grow our crops. And after having acknowledged our gratitude to Providence, which wants us to help ourselves so that it can help us more, we have observed the considerable progress of our population in agriculture and we must rejoice in this.

I owe it to the memory of Sir Andrew Stuart to say this illustrious lawyer did everything in his power to encourage Canadians to settle on public lands.

Translated by Jean-Paul Murray, from the 1893 edition of Discours de Sir Georges Cartier, edited by Joseph Tassé, published by Senécal & Fils at Montreal.