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George Brown
Chapter XVI - The Quebec Conference


THE conference was held with closed doors, so as to encourage free discussion. Some fragmentary notes have been preserved. One impression derived from this and other records is that the public men of that day had been much impressed by the Civil War in the United States, by the apparent weakness of the central authority there, and by the dangers of State sovereignty. Emphasis was laid upon the monarchical element of the proposed constitution for Canada, and upon the fact that powers not expressly defined were to rest in the general, instead of the local, legislatures. In fact, Mr. Chandler, a representative of New Brunswick, complained that the proposed union was legislative, not federal, and reduced the local governments to the status of municipal corporations. In practice these residuary powers were not so formidable as they appeared; the defined powers of the local legislatures were highly important, and were fully maintained, if not enlarged, as a result of the resolute attitude of Ontario under the Mowat government. But the notion that Canada must avoid the dangers of State sovereignty is continually cropping up in the literature of confederation. Friends and opponents of the new constitution made much of these mysterious residuary powers, and the Lower Canadian Liberals feared that they were being drawn into a union that would destroy the liberties and imperil the cherished institutions of the French-Canadian people.

Another point is the extraordinary amount of time and labour given to the constitution of the senate. “The conference proceedings,” wrote Mr. Brown, “get along very well, considering we were very near broken up on the question of the distribution of members in the Upper Chamber of the federal legislature, but fortunately, we have this morning got the matter amicably compromised, after a loss of three days in discussing it.” During the latter years of the union, the elective system had prevailed in Canada, and Mowat, Macdougall and others favoured continuing this practice, but were overruled. Brown joined Macdonald in supporting the nominative system. His reasons were given in his speech in the legislature in 1865. lie believed that t >vo elective chambers were incompatible with the British parliamentary system. The Upper Chamber, if elected, might claim equal power with the Lower, including power over money bills. It might amend money bills, might reject all legislation, and stop the machinery of government. With a Conservative majority in one House, and a Reform majority in the other, a dead-lock might occur. To the objection that the change from the elective to the nominative system involved a diminution of the power of the people, Mr. Brown answered that the government of the day would be responsible for each appointment. It must be admitted that this responsibility is of little practical value, and that Mr. Brown fully shared in the delusions of his time as to the manner in which the senate would be constituted, and the part it would play in the government of the country.

A rupture was threatened also on the question of finance, A large number of local works which in Upper Canada were paid for by local municipal taxation, were in the Maritime Provinces provided out of the provincial revenues. The adjustment was a difficult matter, and finally it was found necessary for the financial representatives of the different provinces to withdraw, for the purpose of constructing a scheme.

On October 28th the conference was concluded, and its resolutions substantially form the constitution of Canada. On October 31st Brown wrote: “We got through our work at Quebec very well. The constitution is not exactly to my mind in all its details—but as a whole it is wonderful, really wonderful. When one thinks of all the fighting we have had for fifteen years, and finds the very men who fought us every inch, now going far beyond what we asked, I am amazed and sometimes alarmed lest it all go to pieces yet. We have yet to pass the ordeal of public opinion in the several provinces, and sad, indeed, will it be if the measure is not adopted by acclamation in them all. For Upper Canada we may well rejoice on the day it becomes law. Nearly all our past difficulties are ended by it, whatever new ones may arise.”

A journey made by the delegates through Canada after the draft was completed enabled Canadians to make the acquaintance of some men of mark in the Maritime Provinces, including Tilley, of New Brunswick, and Tupper, of Nova Scotia, and it evoked in Upper Canada warm expressions of public feeling in favour of the new union. It is estimated that eight thousand people met the delegates at the railway station in Toronto./At a dinner given in the Music Hall in that city^ Mr. Brown explained the new constitution fully He frankly confessed that he was a convert to the scheme of the Intercolonial Railway, for the reason that it was essential to the union between Canada and the Maritime Provinces. The canal system was to be extended, and as soon as the finances would permit communication was to be opened with the North-West Territory. “This was the first time,” wrote Mr. Brown, “that the confederation scheme was really laid open to the public. No doubt was right in saying that the French-Canadians were restive about the scheme, but the feeling in favour of it is all but unanimous here, and I think there is a good chance of carrying it. At any rate, come what may, I can now get out of the affair and out of public life with honour, for I have had placed on record a scheme that would bring to an end all the grievances of which Upper Canada has so long complained.”

The British government gave its hearty blessing to the confederation, and the outlook was hopeful, fin December, 1864, Mr. Brown sailed for England, for the purpose of obtaining the views of the British government. He wrote' from London to Mr. Macdonald that the scheme had given prodigious satisfaction. “The ministry, the Conservatives and the Manchester men are all delighted with it, and everything Canadian has gone up in public estimation immensely. . . . Indeed, from all classes of people you hear nothing but high praise of ‘Canadian statesmanship,’ and loud anticipations of the great future before us. I am much concerned to observe, however, and I write it to you as a thing that must seriously be considered by all men taking a lead hereafter in Canadian public matters—that there is a manifest desire in almost every quarter, that ere long the British American colonies should shift for themselves, and in some quarters evident regret that we did not declare at once for independence. I am very sorry to observe this, but it arises, I hope, from the fear of invasion of Canada by the United States, and will soon pass away with the cause that excites it. ”


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