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Chapter VI - The Movement for Maritime Union

WE now come down to an event of the greatest interest, in which Mr. Tilley took part, and one of such vast and far-reaching importance that it quite overshadows all the other events of his career. The confederation of the Canadian provinces was, beyond all question, the most notable colonial movement within the British empire since the American Declaration of Independence. It changed at once the whole character of the colonial relations which had subsisted with the mother country, and substituted for a few weak and scattered colonies a powerful Dominion, able to speak with a united voice, and stand as a helpmeet to the nation from which most of its people had sprung. No man, whatever his views as to the wisdom of that political union may have been at the time, can now deny that it was timely and necessary, if the colonies and the mother country were to preserve their connection with each other. It is safe to say that, if confederation had not taken place in 1867, British interests on this continent would have suffered, and possibly some of the colonies would now have been a part of the United States. The policy of separating the colonies from England, which has been so much advocated by many leading public men in the great republic, would have found free scope, and by balancing the interests of one colony against those of another, promoting dissensions and favouring those provinces which were disposed to a closer union with the United States, something might have been done to weaken their connection with the British empire, which is now the glory and the strength of the Dominion of Canada.

The question of the union of the several colonies of British North America was by no means a new one when it came up for final settlement. It had been discussed at a very early period in the history of the provinces, and indeed it was a question which it was quite natural to discuss, for it seemed but reasonable that colonies of the same origin, owing the same allegiance, inhabited by people who differed but little from each other in any respect, and with many commercial interests in common, should form a political union. No doubt it might have been brought earlier to the front as a vital political question but for the fact that the British government, which was most interested in promoting the union of the colonies, took no step towards that end until almost compelled by necessity to move in the matter. The colonial policy of England, as represented by the colonial office and in the royal instructions to colonial governors, has seldom been wise or far-seeing, and the British colonies which now girdle the world, have been built up mainly as the result of private enterprise; for the part taken by the government has, in most cases, been merely to give official sanction to what private individuals have already done, and to assist in protecting British interests when they have become important, especially in new regions of the world.

When the Earl of Durham was sent out as governor-general of Canada after the rebellion there in 1838, he suggested in his report that the union of the colonies of British North America was one of the remedies which ought to be resorted to for the ^ pacification of Canada and the reconstruction of its constitution. While a large proportion of the people of the colonies looked with favour upon the idea of a political union, there was in all of them a large body of objectors who were steadily opposed to it. People of that kind are to be found in all countries, and they have existed in all ages of the world’s history. They are the persons who see in every new movement a thousand difficulties which cannot be surmounted. Their minds are constructed on the principle of rejecting all new ideas, and clinging to old forms and systems long after they have lost their vitality. They are a class who look back for precedents for any step of a political character which it is proposed to take, and who judge of everything by the standard of some former age. They seem to forget that precedents must be created some time or another, and that the present century has as good a right to create precedents as any of its predecessors. To these people every objection that could be urged against confederation was exaggerated and magnified, and whenever any proposal was made which seemed to tend towards the union of the colonies, their voices were heard upon the other side. We need not doubt the honesty or loyalty of these objectors, or consider that they were unfavourable either to British connection or to the building up of the empire. It was merely their misfortune that they were constitutionally adverse to change, and could not see any merit in a political movement which involved the idea of novelty.

For some time the principal advocate of confederation in the Maritime Provinces was the Hon. Joseph Howe, a man of such ability and force of character that on a wider stage he might have risen to eminence, and ranked amongst the world’s great statesmen.1 It is impossible indeed not to regret that so great a man, one so imperial in his instincts and views, should have been condemned to spend his life within the bounds of one small province.

The question of the political union of the British North American provinces was brought up in the House of Assembly of Nova Scotia in 1854, and then the leaders of both parties, the Hon. Mr. Johnson for the Conservatives, and the Hon. Mr. Howe for the Liberals, united in advocating the measure, and in depicting the advantage which would accrue from it not only to Nova Scotia, but to every British province in North America. In 1858 the question of confederation was discussed in the parliament of Canada, and such a union was made a part of the policy of the government; for Mr. A. T. Galt, on becoming a member of the administration, insisted upon its being made a cabinet question, and Sir Edmund Head, the governor-general, in his speech at the close of the session, intimated that his government would take action in the matter during the recess. Messrs. Cartier, Galt, and Ross, who were in England representing the government of Canada, waited upon the colonial secretary, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, asking the authority of the imperial government for a meeting of representatives from each of the colonies to take the question of union into consideration. The colonial secretary informed the Canadian delegates, no doubt after consultation with his colleagues, that the question of confederation was necessarily one of an imperial character, and declined to authorize the meeting, because no expression of sentiment on the subject had as yet been received from any of the Maritime Provinces except Nova Scotia. The Earl of Derby’s government fell a few months after this declaration of its policy in regard to the colonies, and was succeeded by the government of Lord Palmerston, which was in office at the time when the negotiations which resulted in the confederation of the colonies were commenced. At first Lord Palmerston’s government seems to have been no more favourable to the union of the colonies than its predecessor; for in 1862 the Duke of Newcastle, then colonial secretary, in a despatch to the governor-general of Canada, after stating that Her Majesty’s government was not prepared to announce any definite policy on the question of confederation, added that, “ If a union, either partial or complete, should hereafter be proposed, with the concurrence of all the provinces to be united, I am sure that the matter would be weighed in this country both by the public, by parliament and by Her Majesty’s government, with no other feeling than an anxiety to discern and promote any course which might be the most conducive to the prosperity, strength and harmony of all the British communities of North America. ” It must always be a subject of astonishment that the British government for so many years should have had no definite policy on a matter so momentous, and that they should have sought to discourage, rather than otherwise, a project which has been of such vast importance to the empire.

The first impulse in favour of confederation in the minds of the members of Lord Palmerston’s cabinet seems to have developed about the time when it became evident that the result of the civil war in the United States would be the defeat of the southern confederacy and the consolidation of the power of the great republic in a more effectual union than that which had existed before. No one who was not blind could fail to see that this change of attitude on the part of the United States would demand a corresponding change in the relations of the British colonies towards each other; for from being a mere federation of states, so loosely connected that secession was frequently threatened by states both north and south, the United States, as the result of the war, had become a nation with a strong central government, which had taken to itself powers never contemplated by the constitution, and which added immensely to its offensive and defensive strength.

In 1863, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, a member of the Canadian cabinet and a man of great eloquence and ability, visited St. John and delivered a lecture in the Mechanics’ Institute Hall on the subject of the union of the colonies. His lecture was fully reported in the Morning News, a paper then published in that city, and attracted wide attention because it opened up a subject of the highest interest for the contemplation of the people of the provinces. Shortly afterwards a series of articles on the same subject, written by the author of this book, appeared in the columns of the Morning News, and were widely read and quoted. These articles followed closely the lines laid down for the union of the colonies by the late Peter S. Hamilton, of Halifax, a writer of ability whose articles on the subject were collected in pamphlet form and extensively circulated. Thus in various ways the public mind was being educated on the question of confederation, and the opinion that the union of the British North American colonies was desirable was generally accepted by all persons who gave any attention to the subject. It was only when the matter came up in a practical form and as a distinct proposition to be carried into effect, that the violent opposition which was afterwards developed against confederation began to be shown.

An event occurred in the summer of 1864 which had its effect on the question of confederation. Up to that time the people of Canada and New Brunswick had been almost wholly unknown to each other, because the difficulties of travelling between the two provinces were so great. Any person who desired to reach Montreal at that time from St. John had to take the international steamer to Portland, Me., and was then carried by the Grand Trunk Railway to his destination. Quebec could be reached in summer by the steamer from Pictou which called at Shediac, but in winter the journey had to be made by the Grand Trunk Railway from Portland, the only alternative route being the road by which the mails were carried from Edmunston north to the St. Lawrence. Under these circumstances the people of the Canadian provinces and of the Maritime Provinces had but few opportunities of seeing each other, and the people of all the provinces knew much more of their neighbours in the United States than they did of their fellow-colonists. One result of the Hon. D’Arcy McGee’s visit in 1863 was an invitation by the city of St. John to the legislature of Canada to visit the Maritime Provinces. The invitation was accepted and a party of about one hundred, comprising members of the legislature, newspaper men, and others, visited St. John in the beginning of August, 1864. Their trip was extended to Fredericton, where they were the guests of the government of New Brunswick, and to Halifax, where they were the guests of that city and of the government of Nova Scotia. This visit produced a good effect upon the public mind, and enabled the Maritime people to see what kind of men their fellow-colonists of Upper and Lower Canada were.

In the meantime a great crisis had arisen in the government of Canada, which was the immediate cause of the active part which that province took in the confederation movement. When Upper and Lower Canada were united in 1841, it was arranged that the representation of each province in the legislature should be equal. The arrangement at that time was favourable to Upper Canada, which had a smaller population than Lower Canada; but in the course of time, as the population of Upper Canada increased faster than that of the lower province, the people of Upper Canada felt that they had less representation than they were entitled to, and this state of affairs led to the raising of the cry of “Representation by* Population” which was so often heard in that province prior to the era of confederation. In 1864 Upper Canada had half a million more people than Lower Canada, and yet was only entitled to the same number of members in the legislature. Another serious difficulty, which arose out of the union, was the necessity, which not long afterwards began to be recognized, of the government having a majority in the legislature from each section of the province. This, in time, grew to be so great an evil that the successful government of Canada became almost impossible, for the majority for the government in one province might at any time be disturbed by some local feeling, and as a consequence the government overthrown. To trace the history of the difficulties which arose from this cause would be to recite twenty years of the history of Canada; but it is only necessary to point out thus plainly the reasons for the willingness of the people of Upper and Lower Canada to resort to confederation as a means of getting rid of their embarrassments.

In 1863, the Hon. John Sandfield Macdonald was leader of the government, but he was compelled to resign when parliament met in the early part of 1864, and in March of that year a new administration under the premiership of Sir E. P. Tachd was formed. This new government developed very little strength, and was defeated on June 14th by a vote of fifty-eight to sixty, on a question relative to some transaction connected with bonds of the city of Montreal. A deadlock had come, and as it was evident that no new government which could be formed was likely to command sufficient support, it became necessary to make some new arrangements in regard to the system of administration. Immediately after the defeat of the government, Mr. George Brown, leader of the Opposition, spoke to several supporters of the administration strongly urging that the present time should be availed of for the purpose of settling forever the constitutional difficulties between Upper and Lower Canada, and assuring them that he was prepared to cooperate with the existing or any other administration that would deal with the question promptly and firmly, with a view to its final settlement. After much negotiation Messrs. Brown, Mowat and McDougall, three prominent members of the Reform party, agreed to enter the government for the purpose of carrying out this policy based on a federal union of all the provinces.

Prior to this time there had been various efforts made by the government of New Brunswick to enter into closer relations with Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Previous to the year 18G1 a number of factories of various kinds had been established in the Maritime Provinces, but the limited market they then enjoyed prevented their extension and crippled their operations. To remedy this, Mr. Tilley, with the approval of his colleagues in the government, visited Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and proposed to the governments of both provinces free admission of their natural products and a uniform tariff on dutiable goods. In Halifax he had a lengthy and satisfactory conference with Mr. Howe, then leader of the government, and with Dr. Tupper, the leader of the Opposition. Both gentlemen agreed that the proposed arrangements would be in the interests of the three provinces, and Mr. Howe agreed to submit the matter to his government with the view of legislative action at the next session. Mr. Tilley then proceeded to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. At the conference held with the government there, his proposal was not so favourably entertained, the objection being that the existing tariff of Prince Edward Island was lower than the tariff of either Nova Scotia or New Brunswick, and sufficient for the financial wants of the Island, and that the necessary advance would be imposing taxation beyond their requirements. Notwithstanding the failure to secure the cooperation of the Island government, it was decided that the joint action of the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick legislatures in the direction named was desirable. When the Nova Scotia legislature met and the public accounts were proposed, it was found that a reduction of tariff was not practicable, and Howe informed Tilley that the scheme would have to be postponed, “though in other respects desirable.” But the subject was not allowed to sleep, and in 1864 there was a renewal of the movement for a union of the Maritime Provinces. At the session of the New Brunswick legislature held that year, resolutions were passed authorizing the government to enter into negotiations with Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to hold a convention for the purpose of carrying such a union into effect. Similar resolutions were carried in the legislatures of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and the convention thus authorized was appointed to meet at Charlottetown in the month of September following.

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