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Canadian History

The Great Enterprise


Part 2A: The Building of Confederation

CHARLOTTETOWN CONFERENCE

1. In September of 1864, the maritime colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland,
and Prince Edward Island had all gathered in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island to discuss
the idea of coming together as one union, with greater freedom from Great Britain.
2. Knowing of the meeting, representatives from the United Provinces of Canada sailed down the
St. Lawrence River and into Charlottetown harbour in an attempt to talk to the maritime
colonies before they made any decision about their own union.
3. Among the Canadians were Georges-Etienne Cartier, George Brown, and John A. Macdonald,
the leadership of the so-called Great Coalition. These three men all had a dream of a larger
union, but their reasons for it weren’t always the same.
4. Cartier felt that the French presence in British North America would be strengthened if the
Maritimes could be brought into the union. The Quebec population, when combined with the
Maritime population, would serve as a counter-balance to the large population of Ontario.
There was also a significant French-speaking population of Acadians in New Brunswick that
would increase the number of French-speakers in any new country.
5. George Brown felt the French influence would be weakened if the Maritimes were to join in
with a larger union. He felt that the mostly English-speaking population of the Maritimes,
combined with the ever-growing population of Ontario, would eventually swamp the French-
speaking population of Quebec.
6. John A. Macdonald was afraid of domination or possible takeover from the United States. He
felt that if the Maritimes were to join with Canada, the resulting population would be about 4
million people, roughly the population of the Confederate South during the American Civil War.
He felt this would be enough to deter the Americans from invading Canada.
7. The Canadian’s arrival in Charlottetown went unnoticed initially as the entire colony was caught
up in the fact that the circus was in town for the first time in 25 years. Finally noticing their
arrival, Alexander Pope was sent to bring the Canadians ashore in a fisherman’s rowboat.
8. The Canadians were invited to address the Maritime conference before those colonies started
talking about their own union, as much to get rid of them as anything else. They never really did
get back on track, as in turn, Cartier, Brown, and Macdonald made a powerful argument for the
union of all the British Colonies in British North America.
9. The Canadians also employed the power of their personalities, especially with Macdonald and
Cartier, as they socialized with Maritime delegates and their families, attending breakfasts,
lunches, dinners, and grand balls. This was particularly effective at winning people over to their
point of view.
10. By the time the Canadians were prepared to leave, all talk of Maritime Union was dead, and all
delegations agreed to pursue the matter of a larger union in a month’s time with another
conference to be held in Quebec City. There was doubt about the Maritime Union anyway, as
Prince Edward Island was reluctant to give up its legislature, giving up local control of what
happened on the Island

QUEBEC CONFERENCE

1. In Quebec City, the mechanics of how a new confederation would work were discussed. There
again was a strong social element to the conference, and again the extroverted nature of the
Canadian officials was an advantage. The Grand Trunk Railway spent a lot of money on
entertainment, as they knew that a new nation would need a railroad.
2. Most of the Seventy-Two Resolutions were worked on in private by Macdonald, who got some
help from former law-partner Oliver Mowat, who was to become the first premier of Ontario.
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3. Macdonald wanted a strong central, or federal government to be in charge of the entire
nation’s affairs, while provincial legislatures would deal with matters within the individual
provinces. It was important that the federal government be given the necessary powers to
ensure that it remain the stronger of the two levels of government. Macdonald did not want
what happened in the United States that led to the civil War to happen here in Canada.
4. The 72 Resolutions, once approved, would become the basis for the British North America Act,
an act of the British Parliament granting Canada its sovereignty. The two most important
sections within the act were Sections 91 and 92, where the powers given to each government
were listed.
5. Section 92 listed all powers belonging to the provincial governments. These included all matters
of a “local nature” within the province, such as the building of roads, bridges, schools, and
matters relevant to the day to day business of the province.
6. Section 91 listed federal government powers. These were things that involved matters of the
“national interest,” such as treaties, economic policy, taxation, and anything that crossed
provincial boundaries. The federal government was given residual powers, meaning anything
not listed in Section 92 belonged in Section 91, extremely important in the future. The federal
government was given the power of disallowance, meaning that they could strike down any
piece of provincial legislation that was felt to be “not in the best interest” of the nation as a
whole. The federal government was also given the power of unlimited taxation. And finally,
Section 91 contains the “peace, order, and good government” clause, whereby the federal
government can enact laws it deems necessary to protect the peace, order, and good government
of the country, including laws that drastically suspend individual legal rights and liberties.
7. Upon Confederation, the federal government would assume the debt of the new provinces. The
provinces would collect taxes and hand them over to the federal government, who would in turn
re-distribute money to the provinces based upon need. These payments would be in the form of
grants, loans, and subsidies.
8. There would be a government based upon the British Parliamentary System. Parliament would
be made up of two houses, an elected House of Commons based upon the principle of
representation by population, and a Senate appointed by the prime minister.
9. The Senate would have regional representation, and would comprise of four regions having the
same number of senators, those being the Maritimes, Quebec, and Ontario. Later, the west
would get a region as well.
10. An important point is that the Quebec Conference very nearly failed due to the fears of some of
the colonies, especially the Maritimes, who were afraid of losing too much control over their own
affairs and becoming “swamped” by the larger population of the Canada’s, particularly Ontario.
11. The St. Alban’s Raid, conducted by Confederate spies based in Quebec, happened during the
final stage of the Quebec Conference. This created a crisis with the United States, raising the
fear of American retaliation. This fear caused many to remember how important it was to unite
for protection against the United States.

THE CONFEDERATION DEBATES

1. The 72 Resolutions had to be passed by each colony’s legislature before a delegation could be
sent to London to conclude the Confederation agreement. This proved to be a rocky road, and
there was great debate everywhere, but particularly in Quebec and the Maritimes where there
was plenty of opposition.
2. In Quebec, there was a great fear that Cartier had “sold-out” his people, and that the French
way of life, their language, religion, and culture were all at risk in a union dominated by English-
speakers. Cartier argued that Confederation would save Quebec, as it gave the province its own
legislature, the second-most seats in the House of Commons because of rep by pop, a minimum
guarantee of 25% of seats in the House of Commons, and regional status for Quebec in the
senate. Eventually, the Catholic Church, a powerful force in Quebec at that time, threw its
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support behind Cartier and the Rouges, allowing Confederation to pass in that province, but not
by much.
3. In New Brunswick, Samuel Leonard Tilley took the Confederation proposal to the voters right
away and lost, meaning an anti-confederation government came to power in that colony. Taking
notice of what happened in New Brunswick, the Nova Scotia government refused to go to the
voters, saying confederation didn’t make sense geographically if New Brunswick wasn’t in. And
Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland decided against joining out-right, leaving them out of
the mix.
4. The British government was not impressed with what had happened in New Brunswick. They put
enormous pressure on the new government to call another vote on the issue, and threatened to
cut New Brunswick adrift if it didn’t join Confederation. The Canadians threw every effort into
winning any new vote in New Brunswick, and money flowed freely through the Grand Trunk
Railroad to make sure that another vote would not be lost.
5. The Fenian Brotherhood began staging raids all along the United States/Canadian frontier, with
a large one taking place in southern New Brunswick. This alarmed the population, and, in
addition to the pressure from other sources, was instrumental in the Confederation government
of Samuel Leonard Tilley being voted back in. Once New Brunswick was in, Nova Scotia held a
vote that was won by the pro-Confederation forces, despite the intense opposition of newspaper
editor Joseph Howe.

LONDON CONFERENCE

1. After ratifying Confederation in their respective legislatures, the governments of Ontario,


Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia sent representatives to London, England to finalize
the deal.
2. John A. Macdonald dominated the conference once again, but this time manages to set himself
on fire in his hotel room, as well as meet a woman, Sarah Bernard, whom he would marry and
return to Canada with.
3. The British Parliament passed the British North America Act 1867, bringing into being a new
nation called the Dominion of Canada, whose first prime minister will be John A. Macdonald,
leader of the Conservatives. It was effective July 1, 1867, which became known as Dominion
Day. The BNA Act is now the Canada Act 1981, and our national holiday is now known as Canada
Day.