Fathers of Confederation

[On June 14, 1864 the short-lived Taché-Macdonald government lost a confidence vote and collapsed. On June 22, the Great Coalition was announced by John A. Macdonald, who read a detailed account of negotiations to the House.]

Mr. Brown then rose, evidently labouring under the deepest emotion, which for time almost choked his utterance.  He said –

Did I conceal from the House, that I feel in all its force the painful position I now occupy, I should be deceiving hon. Members.  For 10 years I have stood opposed to hon. gentlemen opposite in the most hostile manner it is possible to conceive of public man arrayed against each other in the political arena.

I am well aware that in dealing with Ministerial Coalitions, I have used language and spoken in tones such as would forbid my standing in the position I occupy to-day, with any hope of justifying myself before the country, had the agreement you have just heard read been signed under the conditions usually attached to political alliances.

I do not conceal from myself how directly exposed I am to the suspicion that what I do this day I have done from personal motives from a desire to raise my position in this country.  [Cries of “no, no,” from all sides of the House.]  I am free to confess, that had the circumstances in which we are now placed been one with less important, less serious, less threatening than they are, I could not have approached hon. Gentlemen opposite, even with a view to these negotiations.

But I think the House will admit, that if a crisis has ever arisen in the political affairs of any country which would justify such a coalition has taken place, such a crisis has arrived in the history of Canada. (Hear, hear).

It is well known that for many years I for one have held that, in consequence of the sectional difficulties between Upper and Lower Canada, it was absolutely impossible that the government of this country could be carried on with peace, harmony and usefulness – that there was but one way of obtaining good government and legislation for this country, and that was by such a step as had been proposed by gentlemen opposite, and to which I have acceded.

For very many years I have always held the doctrine that, so far as I was concerned, I care not what political alliances existed; I was prepared to meet any body, of men – I cared not of what political party – and join them in a bold and vigorous attempt to settle this question.

And how could I possibly do otherwise?  Ever since 1851 – year after year – I have seen men from my own section of the Province – men of ability, men of high character and enlarged views – coming down here as representatives, filled with the desire and hope of benefiting their country.  But again and again, ere long, have I seen these very men stripped of all their high aspirations, and compelled either to give up all hope of rising in the councils of the country, or to sacrifice their most cherished opinions at the demand of the Eastern section.  And this, though not, probably, to the same extent, has also been the case to some extent with gentlemen from Lower Canada.

We have two races, two languages, two systems of religious belief, two sets of laws, two systems of everything – so that it has been almost impossible that, without sacrificing their principles, the public men of both sections could come together in the same Government.  The difficulty has gone on increasing every year.  The larger counties in the West have continued to increase in population, until now Upper Canada has 400,000 souls unrepresented in this Legislature, and pays an enormous proportion of the taxation, and yet we have but an equality of representation with Lower Canada.

But from the first day that I took my position in this House on this subject – and my hon. friend from Kamouraska (Mr. Chapais) will bear witness to the fact – while I have always claimed for my own section a just share of representation, I still conceded that the feelings of Lower Canada must be consulted, and declared that I was prepared to go with gentlemen from Lower Canada into an honest and fair consideration of all the remedies that could be proposed, and endeavour to find a basis just and equal for both sections. (Hear, hear).

That day which I have long expected how now arrived, and I think, had I not listened to the approaches made to me by gentlemen opposite, I would have shown that I was one of the vilest hypocrites that ever entered public life.

Mr. Speaker, I have already said that it was not without great pain that I listened to the approaches made by gentlemen opposite.  For many years I have been connected with a body of gentlemen from Lower Canada where I have learned warmly to esteem gentlemen who stood by me in time of great difficulty, and whose kindness and friendship I hope never to forget.  It is most painful to rend, aye, even to weaken the bonds that have bound me to those gentlemen; but, Mr. Speaker, party alliances are one thing, and the interests of my country are another (Enthusiastic cheering).

For my hon. Friend from Hochelaga (Mr. Dorion), and my hon. Friend from (Chateauguay (Mr. Holton), I have no terms to express the personal attachment which exists between us, and deeply would I regret were our warm friendship to be diminished from the occurrences of this day.  Nothing but the direct proposition to apply a complete and permanent remedy to the sectional lines of the Province, so manfully proposed by the member for Montreal East (Mr. Cartier) and his colleagues, could have induced me to do that which they could feel was in the slightest degree at variance with the relations in which we have stood to each other.

But I think my hon. friends must feel that I have this justification, that for years past I have urged them to take up this question.  I have entreated them to do so with no urgency they may have considered highly unreasonable; and I say unhesitatingly that even up to the last moment, had they given me the least hope that they would go with me in this movement, firmly and steadily would I have condoned to battle by their sides.

But a few weeks ago I moved for a committee to consider the whole sectional question, and I certainly hoped that my hon. friends would have gone with me; but when they not only refused to go with me into the consideration of the question, and when they refused to sign the report which was adopted by a large majority of the committee, and which hon. gentlemen opposite did sign, I felt I could not, with a sense of what was due to Upper Canada, refuse the offer of hon. gentlemen opposite to join them in an earnest effort for the settlement of this great question – (hear, hear) – and my hon. friends (Messrs. Dorion and Holton) will do me the justice to say that when the invitation to vote on the discussions that have resulted as we have seen this evening, was first addressed to me, I took the earliest opportunity of finding out whether even then I could hope to receive assistance from my hon. friends; and so soon as the first discussion had taken place, I went to them as old friends, told them what I proposed to do, and asked their co-operation in the movement, but without success.

I think, at all events, they must feel that, in taking the course I have taken, I have done nothing to sever those bonds of personal friendship which have so long existed between us.

Mr. Holton – Hear, hear.

Mr. Brown – And I hope the day will yet come when they will look at these proceedings in that light to which I am sure their own good sense and high feeling of principle must lead them – [hear, hear] – and if my hon. friends on this side of the House from Lower Canada would permit me the liberty of making a suggestion, I would respectfully ask them to look frankly and dispassionately at the position in which we stand.

There is not one man in this House who can deny that a great crisis has arisen in the Province; that election has followed election; that one Ministerial crisis has followed another, without bringing any solution for the difficulties in carrying on the government of the country; and if I might address an appeal to my hon. friends, it would be to go with us to the grave consideration of this question and give us a generous forbearance.  We have asked you to pledge yourselves to nothing.  We have not asked you to endorse our measure; all we propose is to place the result of our labours before you at the earliest moment, and then leave you to judge whether it is a measure you can adopt or not.

I pray my hon. friends to think of the deep importance of the issues at stake in this matter, and to consider whether it is not worthy of our most earnest efforts to try if we really can find no solution for the difficulties which have so long and so threateningly beset our country.  When we look at the long record of able public men who have been sacrificed by the system under which we have been governed; when we look back on the discords and agitations of the last ten years, I do say that if we can by any means find a solution for our difficulties, every man with the slightest stake in the country will have cause to be grateful to those who accomplish it. (Cheers).

Can they fancy it is to gain anything personal any of us have taken this position?  Can it be in any shape an object of ambition, to sit down in the same Cabinet with gentlemen to whom you have been opposed for a life-time, or to stand in opposition to old friends with whom you have acted cordially for years?  Nothing but a most stern sense of duty could have brought me into such a position.  I have struggled to avoid entering the Cabinet. I wished to stand outside, and give hon. gentlemen opposite that loyal and hearty aid which I think every true Canadian is bound to given them, in bringing our sectional difficulties to a permanent settlement.  In this I was overruled.

I have been forced to accept office against my wishes, and to the serious injury of my personal interests; and I think I am in a position to say to every hon. member of this House – let us try to rise superior to the pitifulness of party politics in the interests of our country; let us unite to consider and settle this question as a great national issue, in a manner worthy of us as a people.  (Enthusiastic cheers). I ask hon. gentlemen not to criticise too narrowly thus early, but to give us the short time we demand for the preparation of our scheme, and when it is before the House then let them try it by its merits – if we are to be condemned let us be condemned.

And to my hon. friends from Lower Canada, who may have some fears about this movement – who may be told that Mr. Brown has gained an advantage – that Upper Canada may get too much – I entreat that they will listen to no such insinuations.  There is not the slightest desire for undue advantage, and everything that is done shall be done openly and above board.  I am sure I speak the sentiments of every one who is a party to the agreement, in saying that we have had no desire in becoming parties to it, to attain any object but a just settlement of our difficulties, and the elevation of our country out of its present distracted position. (Cheers).

Mr. Speaker, I do not hesitate to confess my anxiety that the course I have taken shall be fully understood beyond the walls of this House.  In the remarkable vicissitudes of the years I have been in public life, if there has been any one thing that has specially sustained and strengthened me in the many difficulties I have had to contend with, it has been the conviction that I could not go into one county of Upper Canada where I would not find very many of the intelligent and right-thinking freeholders ready to greet me with hearty confidence and good will – ready to thank me, with generous warmth, for what they are partial enough to deem my honest services to the country.  I readily confess I am jealous of the confidence of these generous friends, and deeply indeed would I regret that the course I take to-day should be by them misinterpreted.

Where the whole facts of the case are understood, I fear not the verdict of the country.  Did I do so, I would be false to the lessons of my own experience, for in the long course of twenty years of great political vicissitudes, I have invariably found that the sound common sense of the people of Upper Canada has never been mistaken where there was truth and sincerity.  I believe that the country will clearly understand that the alliance which has been formed between the gentlemen opposite and myself, and the friends who will enter the Cabinet with me, is not a common political alliance for ordinary political purposes, but that is has been brought about by the extreme urgency of the deadlock which has almost arisen in our affairs, and by the proposition made by the Attorney-General East – in the most frank and manly manner inviting my co-operation in finding a solution for these difficulties.  It is on that ground, and that alone, that I put my justification.

If the question is asked, how is it that you go in with the only three members of your party in the Cabinet?  I say that, except for the assistance I would get from the ability and hearty co-operation of the two gentlemen who will accompany me, I am so thoroughly satisfied of the sincerity with which the government opposite have approached this question; that I would have fearlessly gone in by myself to carry it (Cheers.)  I may be told that I am of a credulous disposition.  Well, Sir, I would rather have credulous disposition –  I would rather be deceived easily and often, than live constantly in an atmosphere of suspicion.  (Cheers.)

But I am bound to say, if I possess to any extent the faculty of knowing when men are sincere and when insincere – when men mean to give effect to what they say and when they do not – that from the first moment these gentlemen approached this question I was perfectly convinced that no men could have acted with greater sincerity than these gentlemen were doing (hear, hear).  Had I not been most thoroughly satisfied of this I should not have been found standing in the position I occupy today.

And one thing I must say. It is little sacrifice to me to agree to this compromise.  It is little for the Attorney-General West to accept this compromise.  It is comparatively little even for the member for Sherbrooke (Mr. Galt) to accept this compromise.  But it was a great thing, a most bold and manly thing, for Sir Etienne Taché, and for the member for Montreal East (Mr. Cartier), to take up this question in the straightforward way they have done – frankly admitting that a great evil existed which might be removed.  These hon. gentlemen deserve the highest praise for the bold and patriotic stand they have taken – for the way in which they placed at hazard their political position to remedy a great evil, – and for the course they have pursued throughout the whole of the negotiations. (Hear, hear.)

I have no fear of hon. gentlemen opposite with regard to the discussions in settling the details.  If I cannot get my own way, I shall know the reason why, and the whole argument shall, in due time, be submitted to public criticism.  When the Bill comes before the House, it shall be with a complete statement of the arguments for and against the several propositions.

It may be said that the measure we propose is not in harmony with the views I have long advocated.  I have already said that, in urging representation by population, I have never anticipated that that principle, pure and simple, would be carried; but have said that it should be accompanied by provisions for the protection of the local interests of the two sections; and I apprehend the basis we have approached is, to all intents and purposes, the basis arrived at by the Toronto Convention of 1859, and by the Convention at Montreal in the same year, of which my hon. friends, the members for Hochelaga and Chateauguay, were prominent members.

Mr. McGee – yes; substantially the same.

Mr. Dorion – There was nothing then about a Federation of all the Provinces.

Mr. Brown – That may be true.  What we said at the Toronto Convention was this: – It was unnecessary to enter upon the consideration of a federation of all the Provinces, because that was too remote a question to be practically dealt with, although I believe, if a vote had been taken on that scheme at the Toronto Convention, it would have been largely supported.

My hon. friend Mr. Dorion has represented the matter as if the confederation of all the Provinces is the question the Government is pledged to.  I say our position is this: – We are bound to find what would be all the bearings of a confederation of all the Provinces.  For myself, I do not think that I am very ill-informed as to the politics of this continent, and the social, political, financial and commercial relations between the British North American Colonies, but I am free to confess that I am not so well informed as to all the bearings of the question of a union of all the British North American Provinces, that I could at once pronounce a final opinion on that question.  We shall go with this convention which is to be held at Charlotte Town, a few weeks hence, and there present our views; and we will go to England and seek the co-operation of the Imperial Government.

But as regards the direction which we intend our measures shall take, we must refer hon. gentlemen to what is set forth in the document which has been read.

One or two hon. members, when the Attorney General West was speaking, accepted one of his remarks as implying that this was not to be a Government measure.  In the course of the negotiations, the point was raised whether the measure to be introduced should be made a Government question – in which way would we get most fairly, sincerely, and justly the feeling of the Legislature?  The Attorney General West stated correctly that I gave it as my opinion that the measure would be most likely to carry as an open question.  But the Attorney General West will remember that we arrived at no final conclusion upon this point.  Nothing about it was committed to writing.  (Hear, hear.)

So far as I am concerned, I have gone into the Cabinet expressly for the settlement of this question; and, by the settlement of this question, I and the other two gentlemen who go with me, shall stand or fall.  No man who enters the service of the Crown has a right to fix a limit to the period during which he shall render his services.  I do not mean to commit a breach of that rule.  But I do not hesitate to say that our only justification for entering the Cabinet is, that we may thereby obtain a settlement of the sectional question; my duty will have ended when I see that that settlement can no longer be advanced by my remaining in the Government.  (Hear, hear.)

I am sure all of us must feel, that if ever there was a grave question submitted to the public men of any country – the question now under consideration is one of that character; and I think we may congratulate our country that we have among our public men on both sides a large member of hon. gentlemen who have shown themselves prepared to sacrifice party ties and personal feelings in order to meet on common grounds of patriotism – and, Sir, I think we may find additional cause for rejoicing at the position we now occupy when we look at the present situation of the great nation alongside of us, arising out of their great sectional difficulty – one of a still graver character than ours, because pecuniary interests were much more deeply concerned in it.

If we look, however, at the several interests involved in our present movements – and social questions after all affect the mind of a people much more deeply than those which are merely pecuniary – I think we will have much cause for thankfulness, if next session there is, presented to this House a solution for our great difficulties that will be acceptable to the country.  (Hear, hear.)

I do frankly confess, Mr. Speaker, that if I never had any other parliamentary successes than that which I have achieved this day, in having brought about the formation of a Government more powerful than any Canadian Government that ever existed before, pledged to settle and to settle for ever the alarming sectional difficulties of my country, I would have desired no greater honour for my children to keep years hence in their remembrance, than that I had a hand, however humble, in the accomplishment of that work.

The hon. gentlemen resumed his seat amidst loud and prolonged cheers from all parts of the House, and when the sitting was immediately afterwards suspended for dinner recess, many members of both sections of the Province and from both sides of the House, crowded round him to offer their congratulations.