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Chapter VII - The Quebec Conference

THE delegates appointed by the government of New Brunswick for the purpose of representing the provinces at Charlottetown in the convention for a union of the Maritime Provinces, were the Hon. Messrs. Tilley, Steeves, Johnson, Chandler and Gray. The first three were members of the government, while Messrs. Gray and Chandler were leading members of the Opposition, so that the arrangement had the assent of the leaders of both political parties and was in no sense a party movement. The Nova Scotia delegation consisted of the Hon. Charles Tupper, the leader of the government, the attorney-general, Mr. Henry, and Mr. Dickey, a Conservative supporter, and also the Hon. Adams G. Archibald and Jonathan McCully, leaders of the Liberal party. The Prince Edward Island delegates were also chosen from both sides of politics. The convention was opened in due form at Charlottetown on September 8th, in the chamber of the House of Assembly. The delegations had no power to decide finally on any subject, because any arrangements they made were necessarily subject to the approval of the legislatures of the three Maritime Provinces. But at this time the sentiment in favour of maritime union was so strong it was confidently-believed that whatever was agreed upon at Charlottetown would become the basis of a future union. .

The government of Canada had full knowledge of what was going on at Charlottetown, and they considered the time opportune for the purpose of bringing to the notice of the delegates from the Maritime Provinces the subject of a confederation of all the British North American colonies. A telegram was received while the delegates were in session announcing that representatives of the government of Canada had left Quebec for the purpose of meeting the delegates of the Maritime Provinces, and placing certain proposals before them. On the receipt of this message the further consideration of the question which they had met to discuss was deferred until after the Canadian delegates had arrived. They came in the government steamer Victoria on the following day and were found to embrace the leading men then in Canadian political life,—the Hons. J. A. Macdonald, George Brown, Georges E. Cartier, Alexander T. Galt, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Hector L. Langevin, William McDougall and Alexander Campbell. These delegates represented the Reform, as well as the Conservative party, and were therefore able to speak with authority in regard to the views of the people of both Upper and Lower Canada. They were accorded seats in the convention, and at once submitted reasons why in their opinion a scheme of union, embracing the whole of the British North American colonies, should be adopted. The Hon. John A. Macdonald and Messrs. Brown and Cartier were heard on this subject, the financial position of Canada was explained, and the sources of revenue and wealth of the several provinces were discussed. Speeches were also made by Messrs. Galt, McGee, Langevin and McDougall, and after having commanded the attention of the convention for two days the Canadian deputation withdrew. Before doing so they proposed that if the convention concluded to suspend its deliberations upon the question of Maritime union, they should adjourn to Quebec at an early day, to be named by the governor-general, to consider the question of confederation. On the following day the convention adjourned, on the ground that it would be more for the general interest of British North America to adopt the larger union than a union of the Maritime Provinces merely, and it was thought that this might be effected without any very great difficulty, for there was then no strong feeling evinced in any quarter against confederation.

From Charlottetown the members of the convention and the Canadian deputation went to Halifax, where they were received most cordially and entertained at a banquet. They then took their departure for St. John, where they were entertained at a public dinner at which many leading men of the city were present. The chair was occupied by the Hon. John H. Gray, one of the delegates, and the expressions in favour of the proposed confederation were strong and hearty. No one could have suspected at that time that the movement for confederation would meet with so much opposition in New Brunswick. All seemed plain sailing but, as the result showed, the battle for confederation had yet to be fought, and it was won only after a long and doubtful struggle.

According to arrangement, the delegations from the other provinces met in convention at Quebec on October 10th, all the colonies, including Newfoundland, were represented and the delegates were as follows:—

Canada.—Hon. Sir Etienne P. Tache, premier; Hon. John A. Macdonald, attorney-general west; Hon. Georges E. Cartier, attorney-general east; Hon. George Brown, president of the executive council; Hon. Alexander T. Galt, finance minister; Hon. Alexander Campbell, commissioner of Crown lands; Hon. William McDougall, provincial secretary; Hon. Thomas D’Arcy McGee, minister of agriculture; Hon. Hector Langevin, solicitor-general east; Hon. J. Cockburn, solicitor-general west; Hon. Oliver Mowat, postmaster-general; Hon. J. C. Chapais, commissioner of public works.

Nova Scotia.—Hon. Charles Tupper, provincial secretary; Hon. W. A. Henry, attorney-general, Hon. R. B. Dickey, Hon. Adams G. Archibald, Hon. Jonathan McCully.

New Brunswick.—Hon. Samuel L. Tilley, provincial secretary; Hon. John M. Johnson, attorney-general; Hon. Edward B. Chandler, Hon. John Hamilton Gray, Hon. Peter Mitchell, Hon. Chas. Fisher, Hon. William H. Steeves.

Newfoundland.—Hon. F. B. T. Carter, speaker of the House of Assembly; Hon. Ambrose Shea.

Prince Edward Island.—Hon. John Hamilton Gray, premier; Hon. Edward Palmer, attorney-general; Hon. W. H. Pope, provincial secretary; Hon. George Coles, Hon. A. A. Macdonald, Hon. T. H. Haviland, Hon. Edward Whelan.

Sir Etienne P. Taché, who was then premier of Canada, was unanimously chosen president of the conference, and Major Hewitt Bernard, of the staff of the attorney-general west, private and confidential secretary. It was arranged that the convention should hold its meetings with closed doors, and it was laid down as a principle of the discussion that, as the matters to come up for debate were all of a novel character, no man should be prejudiced or held liable to the charge of inconsistency because he had changed his views in regard to any particular matter in the course of the discussion. It was also agreed that the vote, in case of a division, should be by provinces and not by numbers, Canada having two votes, representing Canada East and Canada West, and each of the other provinces one. This arrangement made it quite certain that the interests of the Maritime Provinces were not likely to be prejudiced by the result of the vote, or the work of the convention. It was soon decided that a federal union was to be preferred to a legislative union, and on the second day of the meeting the outlines of the proposed confederation were submitted in a series of resolutions by the Hon. John A. Macdonald. The general model of the proposed confederation was that of the United States, but with this difference, that whereas in the United States all powers not expressly given by the constitution to the federal government are held to belong to the several states, in the Canadian constitution all powers not expressly reserved to the several provinces were held to belong to the federal parliament. Thus in the United States the residuum of power is in the several states, while in Canada it is in the federal union and in the parliament of the Dominion. No doubt the recent example of the civil war in the United States, which was the result of an extreme assertion of state rights, was largely responsible for this feature of the Canadian constitution. It is clear, however, that it is a feature that is to be commended, because its tendency is to cause Canadians to regard themselves rather as Canadians than as belonging to any particular province, while in the United States the feeling of statehood is still very strong. There are, of course, many other contrasts between the Canadian confederation and the federal union of the United States, arising from radical differences in the system of government. Nothing like responsible government, as understood in the British empire, exists in the United States, while this essential feature had to be preserved in the Canadian constitution, not only with reference to the Dominion parliament, but also in the legislatures of the several provinces.

In all the proceedings at Quebec, Mr. Tilley, as the finance minister of New Brunswick, took a very prominent part. One great difficulty which arose was with respect to the amount of money to be given by the federal government to the several provinces for legislative purposes, in lieu of the revenue which they had been accustomed to obtain from customs duties and otherwise. The whole customs establishment was to be transferred to the central government, and as most of the provinces would have no other means of obtaining a revenue except by direct taxation, this feature of the matter became of very vital importance. The difficulty was increased by the /act that by the municipal system prevailing in Upper Canada the local needs of the municipalities, in the way of roads, bridges, schools and other matters, were provided for by local taxation, whereas in the Maritime Provinces the provincial government had been accustomed to bear these burdens. It was therefore an essential requisite to any scheme of union, to make it acceptable to the people of the Maritime Provinces, that sufficient money should be given to the provincial governments to enable them to continue these services as before. It was difficult to convince the representatives of Upper Canada of this, and it appears that the conference nearly broke up without arriving at any result, simply because of the apparently irreconcilable differences of opinion between the representatives of the Maritime Provinces and those of Canada in regard to this point. Finally these differences were overcome, and the conclusions of the conference were embodied in a series of seventy-two resolutions, which were agreed to, and which were to be authenticated by the signatures of the delegates, and transmitted to their respective governments, and also to the governor-general, for the secretary of state for the colonies. These resolutions formed the first basis of confederation and became what is known as the Quebec scheme.

It was perhaps inevitable that during the discussion of the scheme -of confederation by the Quebec convention, the proceedings should be secret, but this restriction should have been removed as soon as the convention adjourned. That this was not done was the principal reason for the very unfavourable reception which the Quebec scheme met with from the people of New Brunswick, when it was placed before them. It was agreed at the Quebec conference that the scheme should not be made public until after the delegates had reported to their respective governments for their approval, but it was impossible that a document, the terms of which were known to so many men, should be kept wholly concealed from the public, and so the details of the scheme leaked out and soon became a topic for public discussion. These discussions would have been conducted in a much more friendly spirit if the Quebec scheme had been given freely to the world, but as it was, prejudices and jealousies, in many cases, darkened the question, and made men, who were otherwise favourable to confederation, assume an attitude of hostility to the Quebec scheme.

One of the points which at once attracted the attention of the opponents of the scheme was the sum allowed to the several provinces for the purpose of conducting their local affairs. As the provinces had to surrender to the general government their right to levy customs and excise duties, it became necessary to make up in some way a sum sufficient to enable them to carry on those services which were still left to the provincial legislatures. It was arranged that this sum should be eighty cents a head of the population of the provinces as established by the census of 1861, which would give to New Brunswick something more than two hundred thousand dollars. This feature of the confederation scheme was eagerly seized upon as being a convenient club with which to strike it down. The cry was at once raised that the people of New Brunswick were asked to sell themselves to Canada for the sum of eighty cents a head, and this parrotlike cry was repeated with variations throughout the whole of the election campaign which followed in New Brunswick. It has often been found that a cry of this kind, which is absolutely meaningless, is more effective than the most weighty arguments, for the purpose of influencing men’s minds, and this proved to be the case in New Brunswick, when the question of confederation was placed before the people. It was conveniently forgotten by those who attacked the scheme in this fashion that, if the people of New Brunswick were selling themselves to Canada for the sum of eighty cents a head, the people of Canada were likewise selling themselves to New Brunswick for the same sum, because the amount set apart for the provincial legislatures was precisely the same in each case. It would not, however, have suited the enemies of the confederation scheme to view the matter in this light; what was wanted was a cry which would be effective for the purpose of injuring the scheme and making it distasteful to the people who were asked to vote upon it.

It is not necessary to assume that those who opposed confederation were all influenced by sinister motives. Many honest and good men, whose attachment to British institutions could not be questioned, were opposed to it because their minds were of a conservative turn, and because they looked with distrust upon such a radical change that would alter the relations which existed between the province and the mother country. Many, for reasons which it is not easy to understand, were distrustful of the politicians of Canada, whom they looked upon as of less sterling honesty than their own, and some actually professed to believe that the Canadians expected to make up their financial deficits by drawing on the many resources of the Maritime Provinces through the confederation scheme. On the other hand confederation was opposed in the province of New Brunswick by a number of men who could only be described as adventurers, or discredited politicians, and who saw in this contest a convenient way of restoring themselves to influence and power. There were also among the opponents of the scheme some men who recognized in its success the means of perpetuating British power on this continent, and who, being annexationists, naturally looked with aversion upon it for that reason. The vast majority of the people, however, had given the matter but the slightest degree of attention, and their votes were cast in accordance with prejudice hastily formed, which they had an opportunity of reconsidering before another year and a half had elapsed.

It had been arranged at the convention that the first trial of the scheme before the people should be made in New Brunswick, the legislature of which was about expiring, and accordingly the appeal was made to the people and the elections came on in the month of March, 1865. The enemies of confederation were very active in every part of the province, and they left no stone unturned to defeat the measure. The great cry upon which they based their opposition to the union with Canada was that of taxation, and, as the voters of New Brunswick were not inclined to favour any policy which involved high taxation, the appeals made in this way had a powerful effect. All through the rural constituencies the Opposition candidates told the electors that if they united themselves with Canada direct taxation would be the immediate result. They said that every cow, every horse, and every sheep which they owned would be taxed, and that even their poultry would not escape the grasp of the Canadian tax-gatherers. In the city of St. John, Mr. Tilley and his colleague, Mr. Charles Watters, were opposed by Mr. J. V. Troop and Mr. A. B. Wetmore. Mr. Troop was a wealthy ship-owner, whose large means made him an acceptable addition to the strength of the anti-confederate party, although previously he had taken no active part in political affairs. Mr. Wetmore was a lawyer of standing in St. John, who was considered to be one of the best nisi prius advocates at the bar, and who carried the methods of the bar largely into his politics. In the course of time he became attorney-general of the province, and later on a judge of the supreme court. Mr. Wetmore, when haranguing St. John audiences, used to depict the dreadful effects of confederation in a manner peculiarly his own. His great plea was an imaginary dialogue between himself and his little son, that precocious infant asking him in lisping tones, “Father, what country do we live in?” to which he would reply, “My dear son, you have no country, for Mr. Tilley has sold us to the Canadians for eighty cents a head.”

In the county of St. John, the Hon. John. H. Gray, Charles N. Skinner, W. H. Scovil and James Quinton, who ran as supporters of confederation, were opposed by John W. Cudlip, T. W. Anglin, the Hon. R. D. Wilmot and Joseph Coram. Mr. Cudlip was a merchant, who at one time enjoyed much popularity in the city of St. John. Mr. Anglin was a clever Irishman, a native of the county of Cork, who had lived several years in St. John and edited a newspaper called the Freeman, which enjoyed a great popularity among his co-religionists. He was admitted to be the leader of the Irish Catholics of St. John, and had acquired an ascendency over them which was not easily shaken ; yet he was not, as a politician, a great success, nor did his efforts to improve the condition of his countrymen always lead to satisfactory results. The Hon. R. D. Wilmot had been a prominent Conservative politician, but was defeated, and had retired to his farm at Belmont. For some years he had been devoting his abilities to stock-raising; but at the first note of alarm on the confederation question he abandoned his agricultural pursuits and rushed into the field to take part in the contest. Mr. Joseph Coram was a leading Orangeman, and a highly respected citizen.

In the county of York, the Hon. George L. Hatheway, who was then chief commissioner of the board of works, appeared in the field as an Opposition candidate, in company with John C. Allen, John J. Fraser and William H. Needham. Mr. Hatheway deserted the government in its hour of need, apparently because he judged from the cries that were raised against confederation that the current of public opinion was strongly adverse to the Quebec scheme. Having left Mr. Tilley in the lurch on the eve of the confederation contest, he deserted the Smith government sixteen months later, when the second confederation election came to be run, thereby inflicting upon them a blow from which it was impossible they could recover. William H. Needham, whose name has already appeared in this volume, did not lay claim to any high political principles; but having retired some time before to private life, he found in the confederation struggle a good opportunity of getting into the legislature. He was a man of very considerable ability, and had his principles been only equal to his knowledge and talents, he might have risen to the highest position in the province. But his course on many occasions made the public distrustful of him, and he died without having enjoyed any of those honours which men of far less ability have obtained. John James Fraser, afterwards governor of New Brunswick, was a man of a different stamp, and seems to have been a sincere opponent of confederation from conviction. The same may be said of John C. Allen, afterwards chief-justice of the province, a man whose sterling honesty has never been questioned.

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