The historical Process of Canadian Confederation

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Charlottetown Conference

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Charlottetown COnference 1864


Print | Fathers of Confederation | M993.154.60The Conference would last a little over a week beginning on September 1, 1864. The Legislative Council chamber in the Colonial Building had been chosen for the conference site. The 23 delegates, 8 from the Canadas, 15 from the Maritimes, were maneuvering in new political waters. They were attempting to create a new constitution without the input of Great Britain. All previous constitutions had been made in London at the prerogative of Imperial objectives (Moore, 50). The Charlottetown conference had begun as a meeting of Maritime provinces with the objective of discussing a union. However, after the formalities, the Maritime delegates invited the Canadians on the first day to hear their proposal.

After Macdonald, Cartier, and Gault had spoken about the virtues of a federal union and the mechanics of finance in the new proposed union, George Brown took the third day to outline the Canadian's proposals on constitutional mechanics: the division of powers, the relations of the provinces to the central government, the harmonization of laws, the judiciary (Moore, 54). For the first 5 days the Canadians had done most of the talking. Finally, on the 6th day the Maritime provinces met to discuss Maritime union. Charles Tupper had introduced a resolution to that effect and discussions ensued. It was Leonard Tilley who finally made the suggestion that Confederation seemed possible, but Maritime union would not help confederation. In addition, the difficulties within the divisions of the Maritime provinces not yet resolved, Maritime union would probably delay confederation. As Tilley stated, "If we get the confederation now, we could easily unite Maritime provinces . . . afterwards"(Moore 56). This was the turning point. The Canadians had provided such a good plan for confederation that the Maritimes adjourned their discussion of Maritime union at that point and reconvened the discussions with the Canadians on confederation. George Brown summed up the move in a phrase. "The conference gave the Canadian delegates their answer - that they were unanimous in regarding federation of all the provinces to be highly desirable, if the terms of union could be made satisfactory - and that they were prepared to waive their own more limited question until the details of our scheme could be more fully considered and matured (Moore 57).

Photograph | Sir John A. Macdonald, Ottawa, ON, 1869 | N-0000.26 Charlottetown forever disposed of the issue of Maritime union and now endorsed the principle of a federal union - a union in which the central government would be supreme, but in which local legislatures would retain significant powers (Moore, 58). However, the details had to be worked out among the provinces. Since the delegates had agreed only to discuss the possibility, they would need to return to their provinces and send delegates to another convention that would work out the details. Nevertheless, Charlottetown provided the framework for confederation under two conditions. First, men who had good reason to consider themselves legitimate representatives of the electorates of the future provinces had to be persuaded that confederation was both worthy and feasible (Moore 59). The key players at the meeting were the Canadians and Charles Tupper. Tupper was instrumental in bringing in the Canadian delegates, for he remained a supporter of a broader union and had advocated as such publicly. Second, Macdonald, Cartier and Brown all showed that bipartisanship could provide strong arguments for a federalist system that would benefit all the provinces.

 f the Canadians had been successful at Charlottetown, they had already planned to invite the Maritime delegates to Montreal the following month. Following the successful Charlottetown conference the delegates returned to their provinces to ask for new delegates to be appointed for the Quebec conference scheduled to begin on October 10.

Photograph | Hon. George Etienne Cartier, politician, Montreal, QC, 1865 | I-15120.1

The Canadian proposal was presented by John Macdonald and George Etienne Cartier. The two complemented each other and that combination managed to illustrate that the two sections of the Canadas could work together and, yet, disagree. Creighton illustrates this point, "Macdonald was the acknowledged advocate of the most strongly centralized federation that could be devised. Cartier, whose first and fundamental duty in political life was to defend the special institutions and distinctive culture of French Canada, stood out, in the eyes of the Maritime delegates, as a living guarantee that local loyalties and local administration must be permitted to survive (Creighton, Confederation, 113). Consequently, Federalism was the key part of the Canadian proposal for a broader union. This was the opening of the first of three main presentations on the part of the Canadian Coalition.