Fathers of Confederation

[ In a historic speech delivered to the House July 5 and July 7, 1858, Galt argues federalism will cure Canada's sectional conflict and provide the platform for national expansion to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Denouncing the sectionalism, partisanship and personal attacks that had paralyzed Canadian politics, Galt declares the conflict between Upper and Lower Canada has made it impossible to continue under a unitary system of government, with both provinces governed by a single executive.

With a larger political field, with a federal system of government, Galt argues politicians blinded by local interests will be encouraged to take broader views as to the best interests of Canada as a whole. Differences of religion and race, in Galt's view, had been the causes of disunion - but with federalism, these matters would fall to the provinces, opening up a clear field for a new national politics, where "the united legislature would be free to discuss the general subjects which affected them as a whole." In other words, Galt argues it is necessary to divide Canada, to unite it.

Yet Galt's federalist objectives are also clearly pitched as a measure of unity, to secure Canada's future greatness. In Galt's words, "He desired to see all their energies directed into one channel, and under one control, for then, they would achieve a great future. The people here desired to be no longer a Province, but to become a nation."]

June 5, 1858

Mr. Galt said, in attempting to address the House on this occasion, he could not lose sight of the fact that, during the whole of this session, the most painful state of things had been witnessed on both sides of the House. They had seen an utter absence of any disposition to consider questions on their merits, and continual appeals to sectional and local feelings. Every division which had taken place had had reference, not to the merits of the question before the House, but solely to the interests of either Upper or Lower Canada. Now, as far as he was concerned, he was unable to vote on such grounds. He desired to see broader views taken; he desired to see the future interests of this great country considered, and he did not wish to see all that he considered valuable made shipwreck of to the mere sectional views of each side of the House. They had seen each side desirous of making a distinction between one and another. So, instead of the debates being conducted with that harmony which ought to characterize them, there had been an interchange of language which was calculated to provoke the strongest and worst feelings.

They were experiencing the consequences of this state of things, in finding it  impossible to carry on a debate without scenes which really reflected discredit upon them. Arising out of this state of things there was scarcely one member who was not made the mark for attack, whose motives were not traduced, whose actions were not misrepresented – scarcely one on the one side or the other who had not found that he did not receive that fair play to which he was entitled. He felt it himself; he felt that he stood alone. He did not know a member on the one side or the other to whom he could appeal for support. But was it to be supposed that he shrank from the position which he took – a position which he believed to be for the real interests of the country?

He was not ignorant of the charges that were made against men behind their backs. He was aware of the sort of whispers which circulated round the benches of that House, and desired to say whatever course he took it would be first stated in his place there. No man could fairly or honestly accuse him of intrigue. He was not unaware of the charges that were brought against him, and he desired to state to the House and the country that, in whatever course he had taken or might take, he was actuated solely by what he conceived to be his duty to the country – by what he thought, would benefit it. He had no aspirations for office – none whatever. If he had desired such a thing he might have achieved it long ago. All he desired was to see the country prosperous, and that a policy should be adopted by the House which would enable them to overcome the difficulties by which they were surrounded – a policy which would be right and just. He had heard himself as one who had acquired his wealth by a railway speculation – as a blackleg, indeed – as one who had attained his present position in a most unfair and improper way.

Well, what was his position? He had scorned to answer these charges before, and he only stood up now to defend himself because he felt the time had come when he was called upon to express his opinion. He came to this country when quite a lad, and he could appeal to the members from the Eastern Townships, who had known him from his youth upwards, whether they ever knew him [to] act otherwise than in the most honest and straightforward manner. Although he was the person to say it, he could say that he had not only enjoyed the confidence, but had merited the confidence, of the people amongst whom he had lived. Day and night he had considered what could be done to relieve the position of the Province. He might be wrong in the conclusions at which he had arrived, but he had sufficient confidence in honourable gentlemen to believe that they would give him credit for sincerity.

It must be manifest  to honourable gentlemen, from what had occurred during the last four months in that House, that there was a strong feeling between the two sections of the Province which could not be erased, and which was increasing in intensity every day. The effect was manifest in the course taken by the Government this session. Everyone must have observed that, although the Government was supported by a large majority, they had been unable to carry out any legislation, good or bad, which they had commenced; everyone must have seen that, owing to the determined opposition that came from Upper Canada, the Government was unable to carry out their own views. He did not say that this was a charge which ought to be made on the Government because it had arisen from causes over which they had no control. It arose from the circumstance of the two sections having arrived at a point which rendered it impossible to go on under the present system of Government.

For his part it was impossible for him to give his entire support to the gentlemen on the treasury benches, or to act together with the member for Toronto. He might differ, and did differ from the Government in some of the measures which they introduced, but he equally differed from the member for Toronto, because he felt if the Government were displaced they would have precisely the same sectional difficulty under any Government which might be formed by that gentlemen.

What was the consequence of this state of things? The Government, with a very strong majority, were unable to carry out the very measures the country desired. (Hear, hear, from both sides.) Even the usury bill lay dormant.

Mr. Foley – That’s their fault.

Mr. Galt thought if the Government were sure of the support of the member for Waterloo and some of his friends, they would go on with it at once.

Mr. Brown – Would you have voted for it as introduced?

Mr. Galt – would vote for it as amended. Would the member for Toronto do so? The country would then have the benefit of it in a fortnight.

Mr. Brown – It’s under consideration (Hear.)

Mr. Galt – That is the misfortune. Matters are under discussion either by the Government or by the Opposition, whose party faction they might not suit. (Hear, hear) He, for his part, though representation by population was not the means of bringing peace to the country. It would only increase the reigning discord. No hasty or unadvised change ought to be made. In Lower Canada, at the time of the Union, the majority of the people had not desired it, nor perhaps in Upper Canada either. We had, however, progressed fast under responsible Government. Our public men had ever contended for the concession of the great measures which had made Canada what it is. Local legislation for local questions had been initiated in the municipal and other institutions which had been founded. The seigniorial tenure had been done away with. The Upper House had been made elective (Hear, hear.)

At the time of the union there had been in Upper Canada 480,000 people; in Lower Canada 690,000 – together more than 1,100,000. In 1851 there had been in Upper Canada 950,000, in Lower Canada 890,000. And now, it was calculated there were in Upper Canada 1,380,000, and in Lower Canada 1,220,000 – together 2,500,000. The progress in the material improvements of the country had been no less than in population. We had public works which no country could surpass. Ships of hundreds of tons could – those of thousands should – penetrate where at the time of the union a barge could not pass. We have railroad and steamboat lines, which we ought to be proud of. And yet such was now the state of parties that, when a subsidy to our ocean steamships was talked of, it was made an accusation against the Government.

He then eulogized the energy of Mr. Young, of Montreal, a man in whose hands the interests of the country would be safe. (Hear.) Our post office system, also had been changed, and for the better, since the union. Our trade relations had also been given into our own charge. Reciprocity with the States had been inaugurated, and he trusted would, be carried out in the spirit in which it was framed. The imports of the country had increased from £2,138,000 in 1841 to £9,857,000 in 1857. The exports had risen in the same period from £2,200,000 to ££6,700,000. (Hear.)

In view of this it was perhaps daring to propose to change the system under which these results had been achieved, but he craved for a short time, the patience of the House while he expressed his views. (Hear.)

He found, now a political agitation in the country which was hardly healthy. The small size of the political field was perhaps its cause. And were it larger, men might be induced to take a more comprehensive view of what was for the interest of the country. Representation by population or the double majority system would not effect a cure. He did not say that the principle of Representation by Population was unjust – far from it. But the maintenance of the union was of such importance as to render it advisable, if possible, to meet the just claims of Upper Canada in another way. (Hear.) He, as a Lower Canadian, could not say he was prepared to force Upper Canada – with a larger population, paying more taxes than Lower Canada – to meet her sister Province in all time to come in Parliament with no more than an equal number of representatives. And with hostile feelings, such as now existed they could not continue to meet and have a joint Government without a sacrifice of principle on the part of the leaders of one or the other section. The union he thought would not work any longer.

He desired to see the country prosper; it was hi thought by day and his thought by night what was best for the country. The honourable members for Toronto and Cornwall desired him to state what he conceived was the remedy. They knew what the remedy was.

He felt it was necessary to get rid of our present constitution, and to adopt the federal instead of the legislative principle. If that were adopted all the causes of disunion would be removed. Were those causes not those of religion and of race? So under a federal union, the local legislature would deal with those local questions, and the united legislature would be free to discuss the general subjects which affected them as a whole. At this late period of the session he could not fully enter into the subject.

The subject had been sufficiently before members, to estimate what would be the effect of the change. If the present government had chosen to initiate a policy of the kind, they could have said to Upper Canada and to Lower Canada they only held power to enable them each to legislate for themselves. Their position, instead of growing daily weaker would have been infinitely stronger and they would not have found the Opposition accumulating against them.

How were we to expect to control the great western territory, unless we established a system of local self-government? Here was the half of a mighty continent offered to them. If they were to take how was it proposed to govern it? Would a simple land agent be sufficient? No, inducements must be held out to the ambition of those who settled there. In the United States, if the people went to one of their territories, there was the prospect before them of taking part in their own government – of being governors, legislators or judges.

He desired to come before the House as the advocate of the confederation of the whole of the British Provinces of British North America. He desired to see all their energies directed into one channel, and under one control, for then, they would achieve a great future. The people here desired to be no longer a Province, but to become a nation. There must then be a national policy inaugurated.

The Imperial Government offered no obstruction; they wished to concede what the colonists desired. In Lord Durham’s time, there had been a convention to discuss the subject. His Lordship had once been in favour of it. The ultra conservatives – The British League – had passed resolutions approving of it. It was not new. In other parts of the world confederation had been carried out. The Australian colonies had recently done this. They had solely themselves in view; we had a powerful neighbouring State to take into consideration.

He had heard the objection urged that we wished to unite the poorer Lower Provinces to the richer Upper ones. This was the opinion of those who were not acquainted with the Lower Provinces. He thought, however, he could show that the union would not be so disadvantageous to the western countries. The nature of the resources and strength of the Lower Provinces were just those which we required, in order to initiate a national existence. They had a navy and a seafaring population – we had not. They had mineral resources which we did not possess. The population of the Colonies was 3,400,000. The trade return of the various Colonies showed an amount of £26,000,000 – figures of no little importance. The inter-Colonial trade alone was worth £2,000,000 per annum. The seagoing shipping of the whole was 3,798,213 tons, exclusive of the lake trade, which was over 8,940,000 tons. The tonnage employed with inter-colonial trade was 719,000 tons. All this showed that, if we were united with the Lower Provinces, our trade would very largely increase. Again the amount of the ship-building in the various Provinces was enormous. The latest returns he had been able to get showed that 210,000 tons of shipping were built in the various colonies per annum. This was important, for the time might eventually come when we might require the services of a navy. There were 67,000 seamen employed in the local trade. Every member in the House must be aware of the position of the Provinces. Each of them were absorbed in developing its own resources – attending to its own interests. Almost the first we had heard of Newfoundland was when its people they were going to be delivered over, bound hand and foot, by the treaty with France.

This showed that the interests of the Provinces, treated in detail, must be sacrificed. Would such be possible with 3,000,000 of people represented on the floor of one House? We saw the deference which was paid to us of Canada, even now – two Provinces being united. How much would not this be increased if the whole, like a bundle of sticks, were bound together?

He would be glad of an opportunity of going into discussion of the manner in which the scheme of a federal government should be carried out, but he would not now do so, further than to say that there must be one general government to attend to the general interests, such as the control of public works, of banks, post offices, lighthouses, harbours, provisional governments for the western territory. Local legislatures would have control of local objects.

In proposing a federal system, he by no means thought the American one should be adopted – we might copy that in its good points and avoid its defects, and at the same time preserve the flexibility of our own constitution. Of course in any change which might be proposed he did not think any difficulty would arise with the mother country. The source of Canada’s weakness was her long exposed frontier. If the colonies were united, we would have a bulwark to the east, and would not be required in the event of disorder to form a constitution or to enter into treaties the one colony with the other. All he wished to see was the policy adopted which was best for the country, financially and otherwise.

June 7, 1858

Mr. Galt, in resuming the subject of a Federal Union of the British Provinces, said his resolutions were intended to show that it would be good policy for the Province to change its method of Government. It would not be proper for him to consider now into how many parts Canada should be divided – he thought several – but the resolution affirmed that there should be at least two. This he concluded from viewing the geographical extent of the Province; and the differences of opinion, he might even say the prejudices, the hostilities, between the eastern and western sections of it. There were general interests which both extremes had in common, but there were local differences which rendered harmonious legislation impossible.

The object of the second resolution was to declare that the western territories should have an organized system of Government. The time for this, he believed had arrived, and the adoption of the federative principle would offer the best means of settling the countries in question.

The object of the third resolution – to declare Federation of the Provinces desirable – had been pretty fully explained by him in a previous speech. It was to appoint a committee to investigate the views of the Government of the several colonies and of the Imperial Government in relation to the subject. This was necessary because we could not legislate on the question alone. The committee too should enquire into the various branches of industry practicable in the various parts of the British possessions, for he thought that, as a country, which had but one pursuit, was liable to great revulsions, so one where diverse pursuits were brought together would probably be prosperous. Again, the trade policy of the various provinces was not uniform. The sister colonies stood almost as hostile to each other in this respect as they did to the United States. The trade union of the several States had been most conducive to their welfare. A similar course would be equally advantageous here. He concluded by moving the first of his resolutions.

Mr. Brown rose to make an amendment, to strike out all the words after “that,” and substitute “it is expedient that the representation of the people in the Canadian Parliament should be based on population, without any reference to the dividing line between Upper and Lower Canada.”

Mr. Sicotte said this subject was irrelevant to the proposition of Mr. Galt.

Mr. J.S. Macdonald thought it was unfair to take up this amendment. The honourable member wished to bring in his representation scheme, deprive the House of the opportunity of considering the broader question propounded, and prevent the House from approaching a grave discussion in a calm manner. The honourable member seemed to assume to speak for all Upper Canada, and say, “unless you give us representation by population, we won’t have anything else.”

Mr. Galt hoped the chair would declare that the amendment was irrelevant. The two subjects were indeed associated in the public mind, but, in reality, they had very little in common.

Mr. Foley thought the amendment was relevant. Both it and the main motion referred to a change in the constitution.

Mr. Brown said if the amendment were not proposed, now, it would prevent many from voting who, like himself, preferred Representation by Population, but failing that would advocate a Federal Union.

Attorney General [John A.] Macdonald thought the questions distinct, especially as the Federation principle had been introduced by Mr. Galt expressly to prevent further agitation on Representation by Population.

Mr. Robinson also thought the questions should be treated separately.

Mr. Speaker said amendments should be analogous and bear affinity to the main motions. It was also a rule that any subject which was embodied in a bill before the House, could not be moved as an amendment to any motion. On both these grounds he ruled the amendment out of order.

Mr. Sicotte then said that the resolutions of Mr. Galt were of the most serious importance, but were not couched in such language as to elicit a vote on the main point in view. The great national scheme he aimed at bringing forward was made secondary, in the first resolution, to the proposition as it affected Canada alone. Should he obtain a vote in favour of that one, he would be precluded form bringing the whole scheme of Federation of the Provinces before the House.

Mr. Galt differed from this. He thought that without the division of Canada, it would be too large to confederate with the other Provinces.

Mr. Sicotte said the division of Canada would be the final, not the initiatory step. He (Mr. Sicotte) thought there was such an exaggeration of the evils at present existing as to be a proof that the evil themselves, which required such exaggeration, were of very small magnitude. (Hear, hear) It was said that society was on the verge of a revolution. Where was the proof of it? Even the complaint that Lower Canada ruled – unfounded as it was – was not so fiercely made that anyone felt insecure as to the possession of his property. No; the evils which oppressed us were commercial and financial; not political or social. Nothing, therefore, drove the Government to propose constitutional changes of a violent nature. (Hear.) The existing evils would not cease by the adoption of Representation by Population, or of a General Union. Society would not thereby be made more perfect. Corruption would not cease.

Mr. Dorion did not agree with the proposition that everything was going on smoothly now. But he said that all we could gain by confederation, was additional postal conveniences, and greater reciprocity in matters of trade. This we could obtain without cumbrous machinery of confederation, by sending some delegates to confer with the colonies every three or four years. This would cost but little, where a federal government would cost millions, most of which would come from the pocket of this Province. The little intercourse we had with the Lower Provinces now proved, not that confederation was necessary, but that those colonies had small interest in common with us. New Brunswick raised all its own cereals. We could export but little to it or any other colony which they could not better get elsewhere.

He then pointed out that representation by population was becoming the opinion of Upper Canada, and said it would lead to civil war between Upper and Lower Canada, or to dissolution of the Union. We are going to ruin and bankruptcy now as fast as a young country could. He was therefore willing to consider any scheme which, like that of Mr. Galt’s or Mr. Merritt’s, promised an issue from the present state of affairs. He thought, however, that a Government might be formed which could conduct the affairs of the country, under its present constitution, in a safe and proper manner.

Mr Merritt was convinced that the union of Upper and Lower Canada would not work any longer, and thought a change in the Constitution must be made, He would vote for going in to committee, not for the sake of the resolutions, but for what would come out of their consideration. He would propose that a constitution should be framed by delegates from the people. He opposed the present system of voting supplies, as it was called, after the money had been spent, and thought no debt should be incurred without a direct appeal to the people.

Mr. Turcotte said, in reference to the concluding remarks of Mr. Dorion, that it was not possible, in the nature of things, to find a party such as he desired. He called the party with whom that gentleman cooperated, not a party but a faction, who took up the narrowest possible grounds as their broadest policy. The subject of representation by population was not one on which the Lower Canadians could agree with the so-called liberals of Upper Canada whose leaders voted for orange incorporation against the Soeurs Grises, and wished to drag in the mire the most sacred institutions of the Lower Province.

As for the cry of governing by a minority, he must observe that it was untrue. Ministers governed by a great majority of the votes of United Canada.

He would further observe that – although the dissolution of the union was said to offer the greatest difficulties to the member for Montreal – the feeling of Lower Canadians was that the Union should be sacrificed rather than the much cherished institutions of the Lower Provinces. Lower Canada had accepted the Union, under which great progress had been made, when there were men in Upper Canada who would carry out its spirit. But when the nature of these public men was changed, the union ceased to be mutually advantageous. Confederation was an idea which merited discussion, at least if we entertained the desire at one time of becoming a great nation. (Hear.)

Mr. Drummond had always looked on federation as the second step towards nationality. A colony like this, which possessed the route from one ocean to another, which had the strategical key of the continent, which was settled by men of energy and activity would not always remain dependent. The Lower Canadians hat hitherto held the balance of power, holding, as they did, opinions most truly liberal, and ever being most free from prejudice. As for the present state of matters, he was glad that one member of the Government had the boldness to say that it could not last forever. As things stood representation by population and the double majority were alternatives, one of which must be adopted if the other were denied. The Government of the Province could, however, not be carried on longer by a majority from both sections, and Representation by Population might answer very well if the two peoples were homogeneous, but they were not, so a change must therefore be eventually made. He could not agree with the first of the resolutions; for to divide Canada into a half a dozen municipalities made a fearfully retrograde step. The practical mode of solving the question of a Federal Union would be to unite the Provinces commercially, and that England should, at her own expense lay down an Intercolonial Railway. The discovery of gold, at Fraser’s River, would be likely to promote a Federal Union, and perfect the highway from one ocean to another.

Colonel Playfair was also in favour of the Federal Union of the Provinces and of the Pacific railroad.

The adjournment was moved by Mr. Dufresne – and the House, at midnight, adjourned.

MLI would not exist without the support of its donors. Please consider making a small contribution today.

Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!