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Chapter XI - The First Parliament of Canada

THE British North America Act, by which the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were bound into a confederation, came into force by royal proclamation on the first day of July, 1867. When it is considered how vast and vital a change this measure brought about, it is surprising that it produced so little excitement anywhere. With the exception of one or two demonstrations which were made with flags by persons hostile to confederation, it was received in the province of New Brunswick, which had been so much excited during two elections, with perfect calmness, and although for some years afterwards there were always a number of persons opposed to union who predicted direful things from confederation, and thought it must finally be dissolved, the voices of such persons were eventually silenced either by death or by their acquiescence in the situation. To-day it may be safely declared that the Canadian confederation stands upon as secure a foundation as any other government in the civilized world.

In June, 1867, the Hon. John A. Macdonald, the leading spirit in the government of Canada, was intrusted by Lord Monck, then governor-general, with the formation of a ministry for the Dominion. Mr. Macdonald naturally experienced a good deal of difficulty in making his arrangements. In the formation of the first ministry much care was necessary; provincial and national interests were to be thought of and denominational claims had to receive some attention. But the greatest difficulty arose with respect to old party lines. Mr. Macdonald thought that these ought, as far as possible, to be ignored, and accordingly selected his men from the leading advocates of confederation belonging to both parties, placing in his cabinet seven Conservatives and six Liberals. The Liberals included the names of Mr. W. P. Howland and Mr. William MacDougall for Ontario. A large number of the Liberals of Ontario, including George Brown and Alexander Mackenzie, opposed this arrangement, called a public meeting in Toronto, and passed resolutions in favour of a strictly party government on the old lines. It declared hostility to the proposal for a coalition, and resolved to oppose Messrs. Howland and MacDougall, should they accept office under Mr. Macdonald. This decision was carried out, but these gentlemen were both elected by good majorities. In this first ministry there were five members from Ontario, four from Quebec, two from Nova Scotia, and two from New Brunswick: S. L. Tilley and Peter Mitchell.

The wisdom of the course adopted will be apparent when it is remembered that the question of confederation was not settled or carried on party lines, some of the Conservatives opposing and some Liberals supporting it. This was clearly the case in New Brunswick, as shown by the last two elections held there. About one-third of the Liberal party, and a like proportion of the Conservative party, opposed confederation at the second election. To have formed the first government on a party basis would have necessitated the selection of some men who were opposed to the union, and whose efforts might not have been devoted to making it a success.

The first confederation ministry was a very strong one. The Hon. John A. Macdonald became premier and minister of justice; the Hon. George E. Cartier was minister of militia and defence; Alexander T. Galt was minister of finance; the Hon. William MacDougall was minister of public works; the Hon. W. P. Howland was minister of inland revenue; the Hon. A. J. F. Blair, president of the privy council; the Hon. Alexander Campbell, postmaster-general; the Hon. J. C. Chapais, minister of agriculture; the Hon. Hector L. Lan-gevin, secretary of state. The Hon. Mr. Tilley became minister of customs and the Hon. Mr. Mitchell minister of marine and fisheries, while the two Nova Scotia representatives, Messrs. Archibald and Kenny, became respectively secretary of state for the provinces and receiver-general.

It will thus be seen that the Maritime Provinces had four representatives out of thirteen members of the cabinet, and this proportion has generally been maintained since that time; so that the fears of those who anticipated that the provinces by the sea would not receive fair treatment in the distribution of high offices have proved to be groundless. On the contrary, it can be said that the Maritime Province members of the government appear always to have occupied a very influential position.

The office of minister of customs, which Mr. Tilley received, was thought by some of his friends to be less important than he deserved, they being of the opinion that he should have been made minister of finance. This office, however, went to Mr. Galt, who, owing to a difference with the rest of the government, resigned four months later, his place in the cabinet being taken by Sir John Rose, who held the office of finance minister until October, 1869, Sir Francis Hincks then receiving the appointment. It was not until the resignation of the latter in February, 1873, that Mr. Tilley became minister of finance. The office at first assigned to him, however, was one of great importance, involving as it did the reorganization of the entire establishment of the customs of Canada, and it gave ample scope for his great ability as a business man.

The elections for the House of Commons in the new parliament of Canada took place in August, when Tilley was chosen to represent the city of St. John, and John H, Gray, the county. It had been expected, in view of the fact that these men had been so largely instrumental in bringing about confederation, that they would be allowed to walk over the course unopposed. This was the case with Mr. Gray, whose candidature met with no opposition; but Mr. Tilley was opposed by Mr. John Wilson, who received a very small vote. This needless and futile opposition to the candidature of a man who deserved so well from the province, was merely one of the proofs of the existence of political rancour in the breasts of those who had been defeated on the confederation question.

The first parliament of united Canada met on November 6th, 1867, and the address was moved by the Hon. Charles Fisher, who had been elected to represent the county of York. The session was a very long one, lasting until May 22nd of the following year; but there was an adjournment, extending from December 21st to March 20th. This meeting of parliament was especially memorable, inasmuch as it brought together, for the first time, the representatives of all the provinces, and the ablest men of all political parties. The people of Ontario and Quebec were little known to the people of the Maritime Provinces, and those who resided in the larger provinces in like manner knew comparatively little of their fellow-subjects who dwelt by the sea. It was expected by some that the Maritime Province representatives would be completely overshadowed by men of greater political reputation belonging to the larger provinces, but this did not prove to be the case. The Maritime representatives at once took a leading position in parliament, and this position they have steadily maintained down to the present time. No man stood better in the House of Commons than the representative from St. John, the Hon. S. L. Tilley. At, that time Her Majesty, the Queen, in acknowledgment of his services in the cause of confederation, had created him a .Companion of the Bath, a distinction which was also given to the Hon. Charles Tupper, of Nova Scotia.

A vast amount of business had to be disposed of at the first, session of the parliament of Canada. Although the Union Act embodied the plan upon which confederation was founded, it was necessary to supplement it by a great deal of special legislation, for the purpose of interpreting it and making preparations for the practical working of the constitution. In all the discussions relative to the measures which had to be passed at that time, Tilley took a prominent part, and, when the session was over, he had established in the House of Commons, as fully as he had in the legislature of New Brunswick, a reputation for ability as a speaker and as a man of affairs. He was looked upon as one whose wide knowledge of the needs of the province and whose experience in departmental work were likely to be of the greatest use to the confederation. His high character gave weight at all times to his words, and caused him to be listened to with the most respectful attention. During the whole period that Tilley sat in the House of Commons, he had the pleasure of knowing that even his political enemies respected his character and abilities, and, with the exception of the premier, perhaps no man wielded a more potent influence in the councils of the Dominion than he.

It is not necessary here to trace to any large extent the career of Sir S. L. Tilley in the parliament of Canada; that belongs rather to the history of the Dominion than to a work which deals particularly with his connection with his native province. Only so much of his public life in the House of Commons will be dealt with as seems necessary to complete his personal history. Tilley continued to hold the position of minister of customs during the whole of the term of the first parliament of Canada. This parliament held five sessions and dissolved in the summer of 1872, the general election being in the month of July, upon which occasion he was reelected for the eity of St. John without opposition.

The second parliament met on March 5th, 1873. Eleven days before that time Mr. Tilley had' become minister of finance, succeeding Sir Francis Hincks, who had resigned that office after holding it for more than three years. The advancement of Mr. Tilley to this responsible and influential position was very pleasing to his friends, and was received with satisfaction by the country generally.

The first confederation ministry of Canada resigned office on November 5th, 1873, under circumstances which are a part of the political history of the Dominion and need not be gone into in this volume, further than to say that, whatever basis there may have been for charges of corruption in connection with the Pacific Railway contract against other persons in the government, none were ever preferred against Mr. Tilley; nor' did any one suspect or believe that he had anything whatever to do with the transactions which led to the resignation of the government. Prior to that event Mr. Tilley had been appointed lieutenant-governor of the province of New Brunswick in succession to the Hon. Lemuel A. Wilmot, whose term had expired. Every one felt that the honour thus bestowed upon Tilley was a most fitting one, for he was New Brunswick’s foremost son in political life, and had reached his high position purely through his own ability and his own good character. That position he filled a greater number of years than any of his successors are likely to do, and it is admitted on all sides that no man could have performed the duties of the office more satisfactorily than he did.

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