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Quebec Conference 1864

The Quebec conference began on Monday, October 10. The conference immediately elected Sir Etienne Tache as chairman. Tache had been made the premier of the united Canadas by the three-way coalition whose real powers were Macdonald, Cartier, and Brown. The conference would last from October 10 -17.


The conference devoted most of its time exploring federalism: How to constitute the national and provincial governments and how to divide authority among them (Moore 101). It was clear since the Charlottetown conference that the provinces with their own governments and powers was a first principle of confederation as opposed to the British Model of a Legislative Union with no other legislative units holding sway. It was clear to the delegates from Canada that a federal union would provide adequate degrees of autonomy to both Canada East and Canada West. Not to mention the Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI.


The first main issue was the shape of the legislative branch. In Charlottetown the Canadians had established that rep-by-pop was indispensable. In the debates concerning the upper house, Andrew Macdonald debated that if “the upper house should be more representative of the smaller provinces, as it was to be the guardian of their rights and privileges” (Moore 105). Then, he argued that each province ought to have equal representation in the upper house. Through some fast working, the Canadians understood that if Andrew Macdonald’s proposal won over the Maritimes they would be sunk.  Hence, they resurrected a compromise of Charles Tupper’s . The three Maritime provinces would start on an equal footing with Ontario and Quebec in the Senate, but there would be additional Senate seats for the Atlantic region if Newfoundland joined confederation (Moore 106). The motion passed very quickly and ended the controversy. Later the conference voted that senators would be appointed for life by the federal government.

George Brown also got what he wanted. Brown’s proposed a resolution that marked the triumph of his 10 year crusade for rep-by-pop. The Canadian coalition and the Charlottetown consensus had been rooted in the principle of rep-by-pop; there would be confederation on no other principle (Moore 113). Finally, when the vote was taken the only province opposed was Prince Edward Island.

The great issue, the independence or subordination of the provinces, came up on Monday, October 24, in resolutions that set out the divisions of powers between the provinces and the federal government (Moore 115). These discussions brought Oliver Mowat, a reformer from Canada West into the conversation. Mowat, a later political giant in Ontario, argued the meaning of subordination of the provinces to the federal government. To Mowat, the provinces mattered, far from being minor branches with few governmental duties. The provinces were sovereign powers within confederation and “the provinces are not in any accurate sense subordinate to the Parliament of Canada" (Moore 116).. Instead, each body of government was independent and supreme within their own jurisdictions. Mowat had several elements in his Quebec resolutions. He had a list of powers granted to the provinces. By its terms, provincial governments won exclusive authority over education, hospitals, and charities; they would control the public lands and the income from them, and govern all matters of property and civil rights (Moore 119, Creighton, Confederation 171-175). The other duties of the provinces would include direct taxation and the creation of other municipal governments: Police forces, prisons, administration of justice would all be under the sway of the provincial governments.

 Nevertheless, John A. Macdonald had faith that in writing in disallowance provision of the Quebec resolution that “the central power must win in the long run. My own opinion is that the general government or parliament should pay no more regard to the status or position of the local governments. (Moore 125). This debate would be played out in the early disputes between the provinces and the central government of Canada.Photograph | Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt, politician, Montreal, QC, 1876 | II-42813.1

 The final proposal of Alexander Galt dealt with financial resolutions between the provinces and the federal government. While Mowat had been able to confirm that the provinces would receive the revenues of their crown lands and would be entitled to levy direct taxes, Galt’s proposal provided funds for the federal government by transferring most of the assets and liabilities of the old provinces and provided the federal government with the power over customs duties and tariffs. Thought like the disallowance measure, the proposal provoked intense debates. Nevertheless, the basics of the proposal passed with side agreements for some of the Maritime provinces. In the end, bargaining among the delegates culminated in the agreement on a railways that would run from Ottawa to Halifax.

In 16 days the delegates managed to provide the structure for a utilitarian government. The Quebec proposals would have to be ratified by the legislatures of the several provinces. This would be a process that would take over two years arising in near derailment. in New Brunswick, Leonard Tilley suffered a vote of no confidence and defeat in legislative elections. It took almost a year for the people of New Brunswick to discover that confederation was better than the government without Tilley. In the end, this was the best thing for Tilley and those who supported confederation. Within a year, Tilley was back in office and the Quebec resolutions passed in early spring 1866. Nova Scotia followed, Tupper also had to pause before bringing the Quebec proposals to a vote but finally voted in early 1866 for confederation. The Canadas were first to pass the Quebec resolution on March 10, 1865.