A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #3: TOC
The Road To Being Canada
Chapter 45, Charlottetown And Quebec Conferences

The union of the province of Nova Scotia to another province or other provinces, is a notion that was expressed early-on, I suspect, by a number of people; it was certainly a notion which Uniacke had, as early as 1806. D. C. Harvey wrote of this in his review of a certain memorandum which Uniacke wrote in that year.

"In this document Uniacke is concerned with many things besides union, and he recommends not one federal but two legislative unions, one for the Canadas and another for the Maritime Provinces. It is clear, however, that he did make a proposal of union in 1806, and that by 1826 he had discarded his earlier proposal in favour of the project of a federal union."1
Though there were local feelings about the amalgamation of the Maritime Provinces through the first half of the 19th century, the British authorities were less concerned about that, as they were about the serious problem as existed in Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec) who were in open rebellion. In time, though, on April 15th, 1861, a resolution was presented to the Assembly by Joseph Howe that the provinces through their respective Lieutenant-governors should communicate with one another and with the British authorities "to ascertain the policies and the opinions of the Imperial Government and the governments of the provinces regarding the consideration of a union of Maritime Provinces or all provinces."2 There did not seem to be much discussion about the larger union that did eventually come about in 1867. It was thought that the larger union of British North American colonies seemed impracticable. There was in "Upper Canada [Ontario] a disinclination to unite with the Maritime Provinces because from their identity of interest and geographical position, they would strengthen Lower Canada [Quebec]. Lower Canada was equally adverse from union through fear that it would increase the English influence in a common legislature."3

On September 1st, 1864, the Charlottetown conference was held. It was a conference to discuss the benefits of a union of the three provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The unified Canadas on hearing of the conference sent its own representatives: Macdonald, Cartier, Galt and McGee. Five delegates came from Nova Scotia: Adams George Archibald, Robert B. Dickey, William Alexander Henry, Jonathan McCully and Charles Tupper. (The absence of Joseph Howe, the most popular leader in Nova Scotia, was ominous.) There were also representatives from New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Newfoundland also sent two observers, but they did not participate directly in the proceedings.

"Having adopted Confederation, the Canadian government descended on the Maritime governments which, rather conveniently, were meeting at Charlottetown to discuss the idea of Maritime union. They took with them a virtually completed scheme of union. As Waite4 says, 'if confederation was not cut and dried before it was brought to Charlottetown, it was as close to being so as the Canadians could make it.' However, they had a major task in salesmanship on their hands, because in the Maritime provinces, Confederation was 'a glittering ideal that few cared to transform into the dross of everyday reality ...' Confederation in the Maritimes was the remedy for no particular evils, the solution of no particular difficulties.'"5
"Only Nova Scotia was found to be in favour of the smaller union. New Brunswick was doubtful, and Prince Edward Island positively refused to give up her own legislature and executive."6 However, the principal result of the Charlottetown conference was that it was agreed that there should be a further conference to be held later that same year at Quebec.

The Quebec Conference began on October 10, 1864. The number of days the delegates actually met -- surprising considering all that was accomplished -- was but eighteen days. The proceedings were behind closed doors in strict secrecy.7 An agreement was reached on 72 resolutions which was to be the basis of a new union.8 The Maritime Provinces met separately, as it was not at all clear that these eastern provinces were prepared to combined themselves, then to combine with the Canadas. Eventually all met in agreement. The union of Canada was to be "a federation, with a central government having jurisdiction over matters of common interest to the whole country comprised in the union, and a number of provincial governments having the control and management of certain local matters naturally and conveniently belonging to them, each government being administered in accordance with the well-understood principles of the British system of parliamentary institutions."9

One of the driving forces behind those who met at Quebec, frankly, was fear of the United States.10 A thought that a great many of those who were to become Canadians, a thought possessed for many years before, and many years after, was that the United States was "an aggressive and expansionist power."11 The impact of the American Civil War (1861–1865), which had just finished up in the United States as the delegates sat down at Quebec, was two-fold. First off, the northern states had on call a large and battle tested army; it was feared that Union Troops, having defeated the south, would spill over the borders with a view to adding the northern British colonies to the Union of the American States. The delegates were conscious of the better defence that might be afforded if the provinces were to come together as a single union under a federal leadership. The second impact of the American Civil War was to be the relationship between the provinces and the federal government of Canada. Residual power, was to lie with the federal government of Canada and not the individual provinces or states that make up the whole; unlike the set up in the United States. The constitution of the United States provided that each state within the union continued to be sovereign and completely in charge of their own affairs -- except, of course, in those areas which had been transferred to the central, or federal government. This was and is not the case in Canada, the federal government would take precedence over the provinces if there was to be an ambiguity as to which level has power in a particular (or newly created) sphere in government. It was thought that the American setup left too much power with the individual states resulting in a near breakup of the United States of America; Canada wanted to avoid this problem.

Those who sat down at Quebec in 1864 came to an agreement, but it did not accord with the views of many of the people who occupied the various provinces. Those back in Nova Scotia were not impressed "with the financial terms, and the haste with which the delegates had yielded to the propositions of the larger scheme." It was felt that the delegates had gone to Quebec to consider matters only, not to lay plans for a new country. What was thought was that the delegates should bring their recommendations back to the legislature for its consideration.

Charles Tupper wrote of the opposition to confederation:

"Many of the bankers and most wealthy merchants who formerly sustained us, under the impression that Confederation will injure their position, have transferred their support to Mr. Howe. The financial position of Nova Scotia is in the most flourishing condition, and the opponents of Confederation excite the masses of the people by the assertion that their taxes will be increased to sustain the extravagance of a Canadian Government, and to defend the long line of exposed Canadian frontier, while the best interests of the Maritime Provinces will be sacrificed by a Government in whose Legislature their influence will be overborne by numbers."12
As for Joseph Howe's role in all of this, Bourinot wrote: "In Nova Scotia the situation was aggravated by the fact that the opposition was led by Mr Howe, who had always been the idol of a large party in the country, and an earnest and consistent supporter of the right of the people to be first consulted on every measure immediately affecting their interests. He succeeded in creating a powerful sentiment against the terms of the measure ..."13

Charles Tupper, who was premier of Nova Scotia in these times leading up to the event, 1864-67, knew he did not have the support of the people on the question of confederation. He advised Macdonald in June of 1866 that if an election were called in Nova Scotia before the confederation legislation was passed at London, that the voters of Nova Scotia would scuttle it.14

The motion to adopt the Quebec resolutions, notwithstanding the opposition led by Howe, passed the House in Nova Scotia. The opposition in Prince Edward Island and in Newfoundland was bitter and neither of these provinces came into the new federation at this time. New Brunswick nearly did not, but in the end adopted the resolutions. In the election held in New Brunswick, in March of 1865, the people defeated the Tilley government and, it seemed, rejected Confederation. "However, growing fear of the United States because of the Fenian raids in the spring of 1866, astute political manipulation by Lieutenant Governor Arthur Gordon, and pressure applied upon the Loyalist province by the British government, all combined"15 and made the province one of the four which combined into a federal union.

NEXT: [Chapter 46, The Fenian Brotherhood]


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Peter Landry