Fathers of Confederation

[In July 1858, the Macdonald-Cartier government was defeated in a vote opposing Queen Victoria’s choice of Ottawa as the seat of government, and though winning an express confidence vote immediately afterward,  chose to resign in order to make political capital of the issue. Doing so they sprung a trap on their rival George Brown, who took power for just days before losing an immediate confidence vote. In a nod to the attention his federation proposal had won, the Governor-General invited Galt to form a government, but lacking a broad following he declined to do so. The conservative government reformed as the Cartier-Macdonald government, Cartier now taking the lead, and ministers changing portfolios twice. The so-called “Double-Shuffle” avoided the necessity of the conservative ministers seeking re-election, as demanded by 19th century convention, and drew outrage from the defeated liberals who had resigned their seats to seek approval of their constituents. Galt was named Inspector General, or finance minister, and as a new minister did seek re-election in Sherbrooke. His electoral address is more than a mere political document. It is arguably one of Canada’s founding documents, deepening Galt’s case for federation as the solution to the increasing political dysfunction in Canada.]

GENTLEMEN: - My appointment to the office of Inspector-General having vacated my seat in the House of Assembly, it becomes my duty to offer myself before my constituents for re-election, and to seek at their hands that constitutional approval of my conduct which alone will authorize me to offer advice to the Representative of our Sovereign.

My course since I had lately the honour to be chosen as your Representative, has been, I trust, in accordance with the views I then placed before you. I gave the Ministry of the day a fair trial, without relinquishing my independence of thought and action. I opposed myself to those views enunciated by the Opposition, which I feared would involve the country in internal dissention. I strove to effect departmental reform, and to place before the Legislature such plans as were I thought, calculated to remedy the existing financial distress of the country, and to provide a cure for our social evils, while advancing our national greatness and consideration.

The circumstances which led to the resignation of the Macdonald-Carteir Ministry are, no doubt, well known to you all; and also the abortive attempt of Mr. Brown to assume the Government of the country.  On the resignation of Mr. Brown’s Ministry, the Governor General was pleased to request me to undertake the charge of forming an Administration. However gratifying it was to me to receive such a mark of His Excellency’s consideration, I felt that my public duty would be ill-discharged if I undertook the task, as I believed the difficulties in which the country was placed required the Ministry to be formed by some one of the prominent party leaders in the House. Any other course might have resulted either in a weak Government not possessing strong Parliamentary support, or in a continuance of the crisis to the manifest injury of the best interests of the Province. I therefore respectfully declined the task.

Mr. Cartier, as the acknowledged leader of the largest party in the House of Assembly, was then charged with the formation of a Government, and at his request I consented to undertake the important charge of administering the finances of the country.

The policy of the Government of which I have now the honour to be a member, has already [been] fully and fairly stated in Parliament, and is, in my opinion, calculated to meet the wishes and expectations of the country. But it may not be amiss if I advert to a few of the leading features of it.

The object of all government is to promote the peace, happiness and prosperity of the people – first, by directly encouraging their industry, and fostering their trade; and secondly, by removing those antagonistic elements in the body politic, which produce discord and dissention, thereby paralyzing the energies of the country. If, in the latter case, the remedy for existing evils can be made the means of augmenting the power and consideration of the nation, and extending its beneficial influence, then a still greater good is attained.

The depressed state of the country, and the embittered tone of feeling between its various sections, has forced on all thinking men the necessity of seeking, not a mere palliative – a political anodyne – but for a thorough and perfect investigation of, and cure for, the disease which as lately shown itself in our political system. The present Government, recognizing the necessity of so dealing with the case, have sufficiently indicated the mode by which they hope to succeed; and as a member of that Government I rest my claims for public support upon me honest and sincere adherence to those views.

The finances of the country with which I am more immediately charged, are, for the moment, in a very depressed condition. A great and lasting addition has been made to the charges on the Revenue, by the aid given in opening our country by railroads, and other public works, and by the establishment of weekly steam packets to Europe – as well as by the reorganization of the Militia. These large sums, together with a general extension of expenditure on the other branches of the public service, undertaken with perhaps too sanguine a view as to the future – have occurred at the moment when the most tremendous monetary and commercial crisis ever known in the history of the world, has overtaken us; and the result has been a very serious deficiency, both last year, and probably in the present year. To meet these difficulties, and to maintain unimpaired the honour and credit of the Province, is the task which the Government has undertaken, and as Finance Minister, I rely with the utmost confidence on the support of the country, in such measures as may speedily restore the equilibrium of our income and expenditure.

I trust by a reorganization of the Public Debt, to effect a large reduction of annual charge under this head, and in common with my colleagues, an immediate and energetic reform of all the branches of the Administration has been undertaken, which coupled with every possible reduction of expenditure will, I trust, produce the desired result without entailing heavier burdens upon the country than are now borne.

I look forward with great confidence to an early revival of trade – and a consequent diminution of the pressure on the community, which will speedily show itself in a revival of our revenue. For a temporary deficiency arising from exceptional causes, it may sometimes be expedient to make temporary provision, but when the evil is one which promises to be permanent, or nearly so, it is evidently necessary to meet it fairly, by all possible reduction of expenditure, and by such additions to the revenue as will make up the deficiency. It is manifestly only an ultimate aggravation of the evil, to postpose the day of reckoning, and it will therefore, be my anxious endeavour to make permanent provision for all charges upon the revenue, as speedily as possible.

In effecting this object, it is a gratification to know that the burdens which the people have to bear, are not an unmixed evil – but that if a large revenue is absolutely required, it is possible so to adjust it as to foster and develop our nascent manufacturing industry, and thereby to encourage that diversity of employment which is an essential element of national prosperity. It is true, that the success of a system of incidental protection, must by that very cause, produce ultimately a reduction of revenue in the articles so manufactured in the country, but the operation must be extended over many years, and as the community becomes enriched by retaining the wages of manufacturing labour in itself, other sources of revenue can then be found in those articles which enter into common consumption and which cannot be produced here. We see this in the mode by which revenue is now raised in Great Britain; and the same effect is now being produced in the United States, where the success of their manufactures is gradually enabling that country to reduce its duties on such articles, while a vast and profitable branch of industry has been secured within a period which in the history of a nation, is only, as it were, a day.

Another important consideration connected with the question of Revenue, is the encouragement of direct trade with foreign countries; this object is better obtained under the system of ad valorem duties than by specific duties; and as a large import trade by the St. Lawrence must necessarily afford greater facilities for the export of the country, by increasing shipping, and by opening up new markets, it is a subject in which all portions of the Province have an equal interest. While, therefore, in itself, the best commercial policy, it is the more gratifying to know that it more fairly distributes the burden of taxation – as the poor man in proportion ot the value of the article he consumes, will not be called upon to pay a higher rate of duty than the rich man, as is now the case. The Government have, therefore, deliberately accepted this as their trade policy, and it will be my duty hereafter, to propose the requisite changes in the Tariff.

In adverting, in the first instance, to the announced policy of the Government upon Finance, Trade and Departmental Reform, I have felt that during the existing commercial crisis, these subjects formed the prominent topics in the public mind, and that you were entitled to have my assurance that they would be fully and fairly met. I now turn to that part of the policy of the present Administration which bears directly upon existing political evils, which, by their vehemence and the intensity of the feelings they have called forth between the two sections of the Province, threaten to make shipwreck of the prosperity which has hitherto marked the Union of Upper with Lower Canada.

The Union proceeded upon the basis of perfect equality between the two sections, and it was no doubt expected that such an assimilation of the different classes in the two Provinces, would have taken place coincidently with their respective increase in population and wealth; that before the period arrived when a predominance might exist in either section, such community of feeling would have arisen as to make any constitutional change easy and acceptable to all. Events have, however, proceeded more rapidly than such assimilation, and the continued throng of emigration to Western Canada, has, it is alleged, placed it in a position to demand that the principle of equality be no longer maintained. This claim on one hand, and the determined resistance of it on the other, have produced effects which if not remedied, must be thought great danger.

This state of things in Canada naturally causes attention to be directed to all possible means of averting the evil; and when we observe in the neighbouring Republic that they have found under a federal system the means of preserving intact the local interests of the several States, while they secure all the advantages of a United Empire, in whatever concerns the interests of all; we are naturally led to enquire whether the Possessions of the British Crown in North America do not offer a similar basis – alike for preserving our present state of progress, and for enormously augmenting our influence, by a Federal Union of these Provinces.

In connection with this subject, we must also look at the rapidly altering position of the vast Territories under the control of the Hudson’s Bay Company, comprising, it is said, one of the finest portions of the Continent, and which are now, on the Pacific coast, brought into prominent notice, by the discoveries of the Frazer River Gold Fields. These territories, east of the Rocky Mountains, are naturally connected with Canada, and must, hereafter, exercise a great influence upon our country. To bring them under the same system of Government, to open these fertile plains to the enterprise of our people, is a most important subject; but it is difficult to see how it can be done, under our present constitution, and therefore this subject alone seems to require us to consider the question of extending our political sphere, and embracing within its influence, not only the maritime Provinces of the Lower St. Lawrence, but hereafter, the prairie and forest lands of the Red River and Saskatchewan.

As the most considerable possession of the British Corwn on this continent, it is plainly the duty of Canada to take the initiative in the consideration of the questions of a Federal Union. And to do so, it is necessary that the subject should receive the most mature consideration – in connection as well with the Imperial Authorities as the Governments of the Lower Provinces. It is the intention of the Government, as announced to Parliament, to make these preliminary enquiries, to ascertain the feelings and wishes of those interested, and to submit the result at the next Session of the Provincial Legislature. – Should the result be, as I confidently trust, to prove that a Federal Union is not merely possible, but will really be fraught with the greatest advantages to all the members of it, it will become necessary to take further steps to give effect to the preliminary discussions, so as ultimately to place the whole subject fairly before the people of Canada for their decision.

So far as my own private judgment goes, I cannot see any other escape from existing difficulties. Temporary expedients might be resorted to, concessions might be made to one section, accompanied by checks in favour of the other, but the germ of evil and discontent would remain, ready to break out at any moment. Much better then is it to enquire whether we can finally dispose of all sources of local discontent, and find in the diversities of race and religion an incentive to honourable rivalry in favour of our common country rather than to leave them, as now, the subjects by which any party leader may build up an evanescent and baneful popularity by arraying one class against another. For my own part, I look forward with a sanguine hope to the day when our statesmen will have larger and nobler objects of ambition, and when the care of the extended interests of a confederation embracing the whole British Possessions in North America will obscure these purely sectional views, which unhappily have now too great prominence.

Gentlemen, - The views I now express on the subject of the policy of the present Government are those you know I have always held. I have not joined the Administration from personal motives, nor by a sacrifice of principle; but honestly and sincerely in the hope that my services may be of some value to the country, in securing that which I have uniformly desired – the remedy of existing political evils, the extension of the power and influence of Canada, a sound commercial policy, both in Trade and Finance, with a reform of the various Departments of the Government, are the objects you and I alike seek, and which I know the present Administration will do their utmost to secure.

I trust, Gentlemen, that this frank exposition of my views on the present position of public affairs, will meet your approval, and that I may once more receive from you that support and confidence, without which the hands of every public man must be rendered weak. I need not add that the interests of this town and of the Eastern Townships, will always be carefully guarded by me, in common with the other representatives of this district; and my hope is, that we may all continue to act together for the welfare of our common country.

I have the honour to be,
Your most obedient,
Humble Servant,

August 17, 1858.


Mr. Galt was elected for the Town of Sherbrooke by acclamation on August 24th, 1858.

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