Nova Scotia—British North American Confederation
Mr. Bright: “Sir, about a month ago—on the 15th of May last—I presented a petition to the House from the representatives of the colony of Nova Scotia, and I now rise for the purpose of calling attention to that petition, and to statements made in it, and of proposing what appears to me to be a judicious course in regard to it. The Resolution which I have given Notice of consists of two parts—first, the statement of a fact which is easily proved; and, secondly, a statement of the mode in which the Government would do wisely to meet the difficult questions which have arisen. I am sorry to see that the right hon. Gentleman who has charge in this House of colonial affairs is not here; but in the course of my argument he may come upon that Bench.
The petition which I presented to the House makes what to all Englishmen must or ought to be considered a very serious complaint. It complains that the Parliament of this country, by an Act passed in the last Session, overthrew the constitution of the colony of Nova Scotia, and destroyed a description—nay, in fact, a reality—of independence which had existed in that colony for nearly 100 years; that it handed over the Government and the destiny of the colony mainly to another colony—namely, that of Canada; and, taking from the people of Nova Scotia the management of their own affairs, the appointment of their own officials, the collection and expenditure of their own revenues, transferred the whole of these to a Parliament created by the Bill, which was to sit at Ottawa, distant not less than 800 miles from Nova Scotia.
Now the petition declares—and I think it is capable of proof—that the House of Commons and the Parliament of the United Kingdom did all they could, not only without the consent of the colonists of Nova Scotia, but directly in the face of their pronounced disapproval; and I think it would be easy to show that what has been done was in reality done as a great surprise to the people of Nova Scotia, and that it was in some degree—though I am afraid to use a word that may seem harsh—a fraud upon the Imperial Parliament. At least, if it were not a fraud—and perhaps I had better withdraw that word—the Act was passed upon representations which were extravagantly coloured, if they were not absolutely untrue.
The Bill that passed last year did not include the colonies of Prince Edward’s Island and Newfoundland and for a very good reason, but for only one reason—namely, that the people of those two colonies did not take part in the discussion on this matter, and refused to be united to the other British North American Provinces. A clause was inserted in the Bill which would enable them at any future time to enter on its consideration—a clause which was perfectly wise, and would have been still better if it had included Nova Scotia. It is quite clear that, for the very same reasons, if they have a real existence, Nova Scotia ought to have been excluded; and I shall ask the attention of the House while I show them that Nova Scotia had as much right to be excluded as the other two colonies, and as much right to complain of being included as they would have had if they had been included in the Bill.
The petition which I presented to the House describes itself as a petition from the representatives of the people of Nova Scotia, and was signed as I shall state. Out of nineteen Members who were elected last September to represent the Province of Nova Scotia in the Parliament at Ottawa, seventeen Members had given their assent to the petition, and had declared themselves opposed to the Confederation. But of the thirty-eight Members elected last September to the Nova Scotian Parliament or House of Assembly, not fewer than thirty-six have signed the petition.
I think that if 640 or 650 out of the Members of this House signed a declaration on some great public question, it would be difficult to say, especially if it were a question of subverting our Constitution, and handing us over to somebody else, that that was not a very fair, satisfactory, and complete expression of the will of the people of the United Kingdom in regard to that matter. The case appears to me to have been on the part of Parliament simply one of great error—an error of haste and precipitation; but to the colony, if their opinions are as I believe them to be, it is one of very serious wrong. I know exactly beforehand what the right hon. Gentleman will say upon this matter. He will say, “We have had the assent of the colony, and it is impossible for anybody to argue now that after what was done by the Legislature of Nova Scotia that the Province was wrongfully included in the Act of last year.” I should be very glad to have the matter placed on that footing; because, if it were once concluded by the House that the Bill, so far as Nova Scotia was concerned, was wrong, and ought to be repealed, and that the people of Nova Scotia were not consenting parties to it, then I think I should be able to prevail on the House to exclude Nova Scotia from the operation of the Bill. I say that not only did they not consent, but the Government of this country knew perfectly well that they did not consent.
In the debate that took place last year in the other House, where the Bill was first introduced, there was a very able and comprehensive speech delivered by the Earl of Carnarvon, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, in which he referred to the question, and admitted its difficulty. Referring to the case of Nova Scotia, he said there was no petition against the Bill on the table of the House of Lords. He said he believed there were petitions, and he insinuated something rather against them, for he added that though they were drawn with considerable ability, yet they had about them the mark of some single hand. He said it was admitted that there were petitions, apparently from public meetings, signed chiefly by the chairman, no numbers of those who attended the meetings being given.
He referred to what was done in 1861, when a Resolution, generally favourable to some kind of Confederation was passed in the House of Assembly of Nova Scotia; but, as he said, it was in very general terms, and therefore no one could say fairly that it had anything to do with this particular Bill or this particular form of Confederation. He referred also to what took place in 1863, when the Parliament of Nova Scotia was dissolved—that the Parliament existing at the moment had agreed to vote in favour of Confederation, and that the British Government and Parliament could not go back beyond that vote, assuming that the Colonial Parliament was perfectly competent to do what it did, and that what it did must be admitted, even if the people did not agree with it.
He instanced the example of the Assembly of Jamaica two or three years ago, when that frightful catastrophe took place, and the Assembly was admitted by the Parliament of this country to be competent to destroy itself as a constitutional instrument of government. We know well that the Jamaica Assembly was a doomed body the moment those transactions took place, and that, in point of fact, it only “committed suicide to save itself from slaughter,” since if it had not done that, the very first act of the Imperial Parliament would have been to make some substantial change in the government of Jamaica.
This is the sentence in which the Earl of Carnarvon expresses his feelings on the matter—
The plea for delay is in reality a plea for indefinite postponement, and to this I do not believe that Parliament will lend its ear. This measure has been purchased at the cost of great personal and local interests, and if we now remit it—I care not on what pretence—to the further consideration of the Province, we deliberately invite opposition, and we may be sure that many years will pass over before another such proposal for Confederation is submitted to Parliament”—[3 Hansard, clxxxv. 572.] It is quite clear from that expression that he knew perfectly well what was going on in the colony; how entirely dissatisfied the people were with the proceedings of this Parliament; and he feared that if there were any delay—for the Bill would not pass if Nova Scotia was not included—and the question was remitted to the decision of the people of Nova Scotia, the idea of the Federation of all the colonies would not be carried out for many years to come. I think that supports the proposition I am submitting to the House.
If the House determines—whether the people of Nova Scotia wish it or not—that that Province should be included in the Confederation, then I have no more to say on the matter. I should argue it no longer, and should leave Parliament and the Government to take the consequences of a policy which in my opinion would be so foolish and so monstrous. What is the course which the House of Assembly and the people of the colony took on this matter? I ask hon. Gentlemen who may fancy there is really nothing in the question to consider it carefully, because in all probability this will not be the last occasion of its being brought before us. In 1861 there had been very naturally a good deal of talk in the British North American Provinces as to the propriety of a Confederation of the colonies, and in that year the House of Assembly of Nova Scotia passed a Resolution of a general character, which referred to a general or partial Confederation or union of the maritime Provinces, and which appointed delegates to consider the question, and to correspond with others who might be concerned in it. In 1862 certain delegates were appointed to meet the Executive Council of Canada, and another deputation from New Brunswick at Quebec. The whole matter was discussed and the determination come to by the conference was that the consideration of the question was premature, and that, until the intercolonial railway was made, and until the colonies were brought into that kind of amalgamation which would arise from the general establishment of free trade among them, nothing could be done, and therefore no further steps were taken by that conference.
The next year a General Election occurred, but it is not asserted by anyone that the question of Confederation was referred to the decision of the constituencies. Two important questions were referred to them—one was that of retrenchment, some thinking that the Government had been very expensive; the other was a proposed limitation of the franchise. The result of the election was a change of Government—a result that sometimes follows a General Election in this country—and a Minister of great authority being deposed, a Minister who has since had great authority—namely, Dr. Tupper—ascended the Nova Scotian ministerial throne. In 1864, soon after Dr. Tupper came to the Premiership, the new Parliament met, and went into the question of Confederation, appointing delegates to consider the propriety of a union between Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward’s Island; but I believe that on no occasion has Nova Scotia shown any disposition to unite in any Confederation from which New Brunswick and Prince Edward’s Island were excluded. In the same year there was what is called a “deadlock” in the administration of affairs in Canada.
The House will bear in mind that for many years past it is not Nova Scotia that has troubled the English Parliament and Government, but any difficulty in connection with the British North American provinces has arisen from embarrassments in Canada. The dead-lock in Canada was such that men looked across the table at each other in the House of Assembly, and asked how things were to go on. It was ultimately agreed that there should be a coalition; that men who had fought violently in Parliament for years before should form a coalition Government, and that its policy should he to combine all the Provinces in a Federal union; or, if that was impracticable, to apply Federal principles to Canada alone, by forming a central Parliament, in which representation should be based upon population, which would give dominance to Upper Canada, and so in all probability get rid of a dead-lock. This was the means by which they proposed to extricate themselves from the embarrassment in which they were placed, and to set their governmental carriage running on its four wheels again.
The delegates who had been appointed to consider the desirableness of a union of the maritime Provinces—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward’s Island—met, in August 1864, at Charlottetown, the capital of Prince Edward’s Island, and they discussed the question for some time; but whilst so doing they were interrupted by the advent of a powerful delegation from Canada, the Canadian politicians being afraid that the maritime Provinces would get up a more limited Federation of their own. The result was, that these gentlemen having no increased authority from the House of Assembly of Nova Scotia, whatever they had from New Brunswick or Prince Edward’s Island, some delay took place, and the delegates met again in Quebec, in October 1864, the result of their deliberations being the formation of what was known as the Quebec scheme, and which really formed the basis of the Bill which the Parliament passed here last year.
The delegates from Nova Scotia and from the other Provinces did not agree to the Confederation. There is no proof that Nova Scotia has ever in any way countenanced a Confederation in which all the maritime Provinces should not be included. Bear in mind that up to this moment the policy of complete Confederation was entirely Canadian. It was not Nova Scotian—it was not even Imperial. Judging from the despatches of the right hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Cardwell), the Colonial Office looked at it with great shyness, and probably did not think it was in a position to give immediate and distinct sanction to it. When this scheme became known in Nova Scotia, there arose a spontaneous excitement on the part of the whole people; meetings were held almost everywhere; petitions in great numbers numerously signed were presented to the House, objecting to the scheme; and objecting—as they have done all along—that anything should be done which was not referred to the constituencies at the elections.
The Nova Scotian House met in February 1865, and in his opening speech the Governor referred to the Quebec scheme, promising to bring the question before the House; but he did not do so because it was felt that the opinion in Nova Scotia was so entirely against it that it would be in vain to ask the support of the House of Assembly for the scheme that had been contrived and developed at Quebec, The House did, however, in fact revive, not this scheme, but the smaller scheme of a Confederation of the maritime Provinces, to which the Nova Scotians had all along been greatly attached, though they do not appear to have in the least favoured a scheme to submerge them, as it were, in the Canadian power. They revived the Resolution of 1864, which referred only to the Confederation of the maritime Provinces; and to show how determined the House was to do nothing more than that, it actually rejected the Preamble to the Resolutions, which seemed to give some kind of semblance to the idea that under some circumstances they would consent to union with Canada. They thus showed in a very remarkable manner how watchful they were that they should not be committed to a general Confederation in which Canada was included with them.
In the Session of 1865 there were 183 petitions, signed by more than 15,000 persons, presented to the House of Assembly of Nova Scotia, complaining of any attempt whatsoever to deal with the question of Confederation until it had been referred for the opinion of the people to be constitutionally expressed at a General Election. There were 183 petitions against any such proceeding, and only one solitary petition—the number of names I have not found stated in the petition—in favour of Confederation. Well, now we come to the Session of 1866. The House met in February. There was not a single word in the Governor’s speech on the question of Confederation. If it had been referred to the constituencies—if the people of Nova Scotia were wishing for it—if it was for its consideration Parliament had been assembled, I think we should have had something about it in the Governor’s speech. The question had been considered as one virtually settled—the minds of the people of Nova Scotia had been so far drawn from it that the whole matter was supposed to be at an end.
What happened two months after? This extraordinary thing—the First Minister of Nova Scotia, Dr. Tupper, brought in a Resolution that a scheme of Confederation should be proceeded with, and delegates were appointed to arrange the scheme. No time was given for public meetings, petitions, or demonstrations of public opinion, and, in fact, the whole proceeding was carried on with an indecent haste, such as I should think there is no example of in a Legislative Assembly that was about, contrary to the will of its constituents, to subvert and overthrow its own power. The Session before there was no majority for doing anything; but in the Session of 1866 there was a majority for this proceeding. How it was obtained I know not; but there are modes of dealing with Oppositions, as we have had any number of times in this House, by which a minority sometimes becomes a majority.
Dr. Tupper is a man of whom I will say nothing that is disrespectful. He is a man, I should say, of rather a subtle intellect, and he has what is an admirable thing in a Prime Minister—a persuasive tongue; and, what is more, he appears to me to have an ambition which is not willing to be confined within the comparatively narrow limits of the Province of Nova Scotia; and, somehow or other, Dr. Tupper managed to convert the minority of the year before into the majority of the year 1866, and succeeded in having this Resolution passed and these delegates appointed. Then these delegates came to England, where they were joined by those of Canada and New Brunswick, Prince Edward’s Island and Newfoundland taking no part in the matter, and sending no delegates; so that, happily or unhappily as the case may turn out—for I am not arguing for or against Confederation as a principle—their legislation did not subvert their Constitution, and they are free as they were before. But there came to England whilst this question was under discussion a counter delegation sent by the people—not the Assembly—of Nova Scotia. The delegates from the people brought a petition signed, not in favour of Confederation, by 31,000 male inhabitants of Nova Scotia, protesting against the Imperial Parliament giving its assistance to the subversion of the Constitution of Nova Scotia and to uniting that colony to Canada, and till the people should have had an opportunity of declaring their opinion upon that proposal at the General Elections in the Colony.
In the month of March last year I protested against the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies proceeding with the Bill, telling him that in three months, according to the ordinary custom of the colony, there would be a General Election, and this question would then be referred to the whole of the constituencies affected by it. But the right hon. Gentleman was very sharp on me, and thought I was stepping in and interfering with a great transaction of his. I pointed out that in reference to English corporations this House does not put men within the circuit of a municipality until you have ascertained what is the opinion of those who are to be included within it; but here is a whole colony of 400,000 persons—a colony that I venture to say is, for its numbers, the noblest colony probably that England has; a colony that has given us less trouble; a colony having a people of most remarkable qualities; and yet they are handed over to this new Confederation not only without their consent, but absolutely in the teeth of their protestations against it.
To show the House that I am not now taking up the question merely for the purpose of stimulating any difficulty that may have arisen, or of making this question embarrassing to the Government, I will state some few of the things I said when I spoke on the subject last year. I said that I had never before known any measure affecting any considerable part of the population hurried through Parliament with the unseemly haste which we witnessed last year; and I referred to the fact that two colonies were left out, and I said I presumed they were left out because it was quite clear that they did not want to come in, The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Adderley) interrupted me, and said: “I am glad I can inform the hon. Gentleman that they are—one of them at least—on the point of coming in,” I have not heard of their coming in, but they were left out because they did not wish to come in, and that is all I propose with regard to the colony of Nova Scotia.
Further, I described what had been done with that petition of 31,000 signatures; and I asked the House not to bind Nova Scotia until the opinion of the constituency of that colony had been ascertained, which would have been within a few months of the time at which I was speaking. I said further—
If, at a time like this, when you are proposing a union which we all hope is to last for ever, you create a little sore it will in all probability become a great sore in a short time, and it may be that the intentions of Parliament will be almost entirely frustrated by the haste with which this measure is being pushed forward.”—[3 Hansard, clxxxv. 1182] The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the case as one of great exigency, and I pointed out that if we had the feeling of the people of Nova Scotia with us we might go forward in the hope that the transaction would be advantageous to the colony and honourable to the mother-country.
The petition to which I have referred was disregarded; the opinions of 31,000 persons were considered not nearly so important as the representations of Dr. Tupper and his friends; my warning with regard to the little sore was considered of no use and not in the slightest degree judicious; and the Bill, being pushed forward, was passed. Now there came on in September, later than usual, a General Election for the Province of Nova Scotia, and it was no longer possible to keep the subject from discussion and decision by the constituencies. The result was, that of the thirty-eight Members returned to the local Nova Scotian Parliament meeting at Halifax, only two were returned in favour of Confederation, and of the nineteen sent to represent the Province in the Parliament meeting at Ottawa, only two were returned in favour of Confederation, and one of these has, I believe, given his assent to the petition I have presented to the House.
Thus it will be seen that of fifty-seven Members, only three are in favour of the Bill which was passed with so much haste and so much unstatesmanlike obstinacy last year. The House is landed in this difficulty, that you have been professing to confer a great benefit on your colony—you did it without their consent, and that colony turns upon you, and asks you to take back the gift. The House should bear in mind, when this election took place there were not wanting those means by which Government and officials interfere with the freedom of elections. It was said more than once by persons in authority, that if the people of Nova Scotia voted against the Confederation it would be displeasing to the Queen. The Colonial Office also exercised its authority. The Governor of the colony at the time exercised all the influence he could bring to bear on the matter and the case. The military gentlemen who lived outside barracks, and who never before voted at elections, came forward and Toted, and brought all the force of their opinion, example, and suffrage in support of what they supposed was the intention of the Government at home and of the colony. And the Canadian officials, they were also to exercise whatever influence they possessed. Well, all this was done, and we know how it is done here, and we can guess how it is done in Nova Scotia. But, notwithstanding all this battery and machining against the popular cause, it failed, and failed completely, as I have shown.
The House elected last September met in February of this year, and immediately turned their attention to the question of the destruction of their Constitution and their forced union with Canada; and they sent delegates to England to ask for the restoration of the Constitution as it existed previously to the passing of the British North American Confederation Act, and they instructed their delegates they were not to accept any alteration or amendment of that Act. I do not say this for the purpose of saying I agree with or approve of it, or that I think it absolutely necessary for them to stand by those words. I state it for the sake of showing what at the present moment is the unanimous judgment of the whole local Legislature of Nova Scotia.
In the eighteen counties of the colony great public meetings were held, and one was held in Halifax, the capital city, and under the eye of the Government. They say the Act of Union has no claim upon the loyalty of the people of Nova Scotia, and that any obedience to it is a matter of coercion, and not given by a free people. There are 48,000 electors in Nova Scotia, and I think only 13,000 voted for the Confederation candidates, with all the influence that could be brought to bear upon them. But in some counties there was no control; in others, the majorities were so great and the minorities so small that the poll was over at a very early hour of the day, and a great number of the electors did not vote. I state this in order to show that the number of electors who voted on the occasion ought not to be regarded in a consideration of this question.
I must refer once more to the speech of the Earl of Carnarvon. I say it expresses a fear of public opinion in Nova Scotia, and a consciousness that he was taking a course, in moving the second reading of the Bill, which had not the sanction of the people of the colony. If that be so I put it to the House whether it is not a question of more than ordinary seriousness, and whether the proposition I make for an inquiry—that a Commission should be sent out—is not a rational and statesmanlike proposition? If the House or the Government be disposed to disregard the question, then I assure them it is understood to be a serious question in Canada; and that, although Dr. Tupper is anxious the Confederation should work well, and that all the colonies should adopt it, the present aspect of affairs in Nova Scotia is perilous.
In Canada, I am told, the Canadian oath has been altered, because it will not be taken by the people of Nova Scotia. They were required to take an oath that they would defend their dominions. The people of Nova Scotia were not prepared to take the oath, and it was therefore altered. More than that, I believe the Nova Scotia Militia will not be called out for drill this year, because it is felt that the people of Nova Scotia are unwilling to do anything that will put them into action with, or independence upon, or in submission to the Government of Canada. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Adderley) will tell the House—I wish I could say what he will doubtless say—that the whole thing will blow over.
Well, some things do blow over; some do not: and if they do, it is only with a very rough blast. It is not a very statesmanlike conclusion, after last year committing a great error or wrong, to sit down and refuse to inquire into it, or remedy it, and say it is a momentary passion, and will blow over, and that the opposition will soon be at an end. You have bound them together, and you say there is no remedy in this Parliament which did them the injustice. You tell them, if a wrong has been done, they must go to Canada and get it remedied. If they go to the Parliament of Ottawa they would tell them by a majority of 6 to 1 they could nothing for them. They would say, “You are part of the Confederation, and if any wrong has been done you must go to the Parliament in London.” I beg to tell the House that if that is the principle on which we are to net—to allow them to go to Canada for a remedy, and if we undertake to interfere in no way in the matter, and withdraw the troops from Nova Scotia, and leave Nova Scotia and Canada to settle the matter, it will he settled very easily, or perhaps I should say without much difficulty.
Canada cannot coerce Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia would know that she cannot be coerced; and therefore either she would secede and revert to her ancient Constitution, which she has by no means forgotten, or Canada would immediately appoint a Commission to inquire into the whole matter, and to offer to Nova Scotia such amendments of the Act, and such changes or concessions in the mode of Confederation, as Nova Scotia might—I do not say it is likely she would—but such as she might ultimately be willing to accept. There is another point which the House should bear in mind—that Nova Scotia is next to New Brunswick, and although New Brunswick has, by her General Election, confirmed the proposition of Confederation, yet there is a growing feeling in New Brunswick, since the Canadian Parliament met, that the Confederation is not a good thing for them. Every day, I believe, a stronger sympathy with Nova Scotia is being created.
The other day, in the city of St. John, the principal mercantile city of New Brunswick, a candidate strong against Confederation was returned, and so strong was the party supporting him that no candidate in favour of Confederation could be brought forward to oppose him. I venture to say, if the Government refuse any inquiry into this matter, they will only add to the folly of their haste of last year the greater folly of a more perilous obstinacy this year. It is not a safe course that the Government is going to pursue, if I have rightly heard what is in their mind. It is said that the right hon. Gentleman and the Duke of Buckingham, his Chief at the Colonial Office, propose that by and-by a new Governor General shall be sent to Canada; that the matter shall then be inquired into; that he shall try to ascertain the grounds of discord, stopping a day or so at Halifax; and that, when he arrives at Ottawa, he shall propose something to reconcile Nova Scotia to the Government of Canada. I believe that any such inquiry will be utterly futile. The Governor General going out there will not be the most impartial man to consider the question; and when he gets to Ottawa, and is there surrounded by his Ministers in the Canadian Parliament, who will all be on the other side, it is quite clear he will be in a position of the greatest difficulty. And I think a man must be sanguine beyond what is wise to suppose that any good could arise from a proceeding like that.
I think that we have committed a certain wrong. We have done it through error, or in haste; and it is very unstates-manlike to shut the door of Parliament against the prayer of the petitioners, which may be said to represent nearly, if not quite, half the population of Nova Scotia. I think the sending out of a Commission, or Commissioners, would be more considerate to the colony Such Commission might take into view all the circumstances of the case; and it would be more soothing to the 300,000 or 400,000 inhabitants who are dissatisfied with the course taken last year. Our colonial experience has not been very satisfactory to us in some things. We fancy that people 3,000 or 4,000 miles off are as tractable or as easily governed as people in a neighbouring colony. It is quite a mistake. They have ideas which Englishmen have not. The tie which binds them to this House, though strong, is very much less strong than the ties which bind our English counties to the sovereignty of this House.
It is only about 100 years ago that the wise men in this House proposed in a single Session to pass three coercive Acts against the North American colonies. I have no doubt that there were many men in those days who stood up to object to those Acts, and were deemed fools or something worse for their pains. And yet their folly turned out the greatest wisdom, and the almost unanimous wisdom of Parliament turned out to be the greatest folly; and this is now pointed at by every historian as one of the most remarkable transactions of unwisdom that ever occurred in the English Parliament.
It is not now a question of mere stamps, or of 3d. or 6d. a pound on tea. It is a question of the absolute subversion and abolition of an ancient, honoured, and valued Constitution.
I consider it quite likely that the people of Nova Scotia, who have been free, happy, independent, and prosperous for so long a time, may have just as strong a love for the Constitution of their comparatively small population, as any of us may have for the Constitution under which we live.
The noble Lord who moved the second reading of the Bill in the other House said we were now laying the foundation of a great State. Last year we all hoped so. I hoped so myself although I confess I had not much faith in it. But to build up a great State by making a victim of this colony, and to make a victim of this colony in order to meet certain difficulties in Canada or in the Colonial Office, does not appear to me to be wise; and to endeavour to build up a great State from those discordant materials, partly from fear, and partly from jealousy of the United States, is a far more objectionable feature in the matter.
I know very well there is an idea that this union with Canada is one mode of preventing the North American colonies from annexation to the United States. The motive is hardly wise, and in the mode of accomplishing it there is no wisdom whatever; for you are attempting now to build a great State on a foundation which shakes under you the very moment you are beginning to build; and when you passed your Bill of Federation last year for the foundation of a great State, you were putting together materials which were not in accord, and out of which the moment they were brought together would arise something like we have now seen. We know what the official view of things is. It, we generally find, is to do nothing; and it goes on doing nothing until the case gets so bad that nothing can be done. And that is precisely what the Colonial Office tonight will ask the House of Commons to do in this matter.
It would not do anything last year but contradict me when I said the Nova Scotians were against that Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman was positive and rather insolent, and thought I was meddling where I did not understand it. And now, when I ask him to inquire, he will tell the House that inquiry would only make the difficulties greater, and would hear the appearance of a concession which the House does not intend to make. Now, I hope the House and the Colonial Office will beware of saying anything like that. You do not know yet that you will not have to make concession. And therefore I say to the right hon. Gentleman and to his Colleagues not to agree to any statement like that, because next year we may look upon a state of things far less palatable than those of today. What is the difficulty of inquiry? There have been Commissions of Inquiry before of an important character, and there may be one now. The result would be this—that all the Canadian people would say—”Well, the English Parliament have behaved to us, after all, in a certain degree of moderation and reasonableness. What they did was through misapprehension, and when we represented it to them they were ready to inquire. They have sent out a Commission, and we will go fairly into the question with them, and we will see if the difficult question can be adjusted.” Now, there are several things which could be done. There could be a Confederation of all the Provinces, as at present proposed, but with certain modifications, and this might possibly meet the views of the Nova Scotians; there might be a Confederation of the maritime Provinces only, which would be probable most likely to meet the views of the Nova Scotians; or you might take the alternative scheme proposed by the Canadian Executive Government—apply the Federal principle to the two Canadas with a central Parliament. So that, after all, there are two ways out of this difficulty, and the proper way would be discovered by a Commission sent to Nova Scotia to inquire into it.
But whatever you do, I say to have no inquiry, but to stand on the Bill passed last Session—to shut the door of the House in the face of that new colony—would be one of those acts, not of statesmanship, but of madness, which statesmen and Ministers ought on all occasions to avoid. If you shut the door of hope, what will be the effect upon the minds of this population who are so agitated? They will feel that they are made the victims of Canadian ambition and of Imperial policy in which they do not in the least sympathize. I am afraid, Sir, to treat this question in one part of it, because it will lead me to say, though it will be false in detail, what will be likely to increase the difficulty I point out. If you propose a union at all hazards, the danger to my mind is apparent.
From the moment that resolution reaches Nova Scotia there will be created a deeper hostility to Canada. I do not know why it is that the smaller Provinces have no love of Canada, They do not believe in her political system. They have no faith in the wisdom and morality of her statesmen. They go there with nineteen Members to a House of 180 Members, and they think they will be lost when they get there, and that their own complete government will be gone. They are not placed under the Imperial Parliament, but under what is only a Colonial Government, in which they have no faith and for which they have no love.
I say therefore if you turn them from this House, not only without remedy, but without inquiry, you will create a deeper hostility to Canada. You will create also a growing estrangement from England, and what is perhaps dreaded by some more than anything else, you will create and increase the sympathy with the neighbouring New England States of North America.
When men are irritated, as the Nova Scotians are now irritated, and when nothing is done to soothe the irritation—when you will not inquire—when you will not remedy-when you will not listen—it takes a very little thing indeed where a colony is 3,000 or 4,000 miles away from the mother country, to turn its eyes in the direction of the government of a great country—of its own race and with institutions as free—and probably willing, when the colonies are willing, to receive them within its ample borders. This is what I am afraid may happen.
Your scheme must break down if the Nova Scotians resolve they will not have it, It is impossible for you to coerce them. I do not think there is the temper in the English House of Commons, nor amongst Englishmen in the United Kingdom, that would allow the Government by force to coerce the population of Nova Scotia into the subversion of her very government, and into annexation with Canada. But if you are not prepared to coerce, then I say the proper course for the Government to take—and I never gave any Government an opinion with more conscientious belief in its reasonableness and its propriety—the course which the Government should take is to select one or two men of high position and character in this country, who would go and give two or three months to this question this autumn, to examine into the whole matter in Nova Scotia. They would also see something of the state of public opinion in Canada; because they would necessarily see the Governors and the authorities there, and possibly—probably—I will not say certainly—they may propose some plan which would relieve the colonies from this difficulty, and would show the House of Commons and the Government here a path out of a difficulty which I think every day we tread in it becomes more difficult, and which may land us in disasters which are fearful to contemplate.
The other day the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government met the deputation upon Ireland. It was not upon this question—it was upon a question which has been much discussed in the House during the present Session—and he made an observation to them which would have been very wise under certain circumstances, but, as it was not true, it was not very wise under the circumstances in which it was spoken, He made this observation. He said—”we have secured this for the people of this country, that the Constitution shall not be subverted without an appeal to them.” But you have subverted the Constitution of Nova Scotia without any appeal to the people of Nova Scotia. You did it from what I think an exaggerated statement of persons connected with the then Government of Nova Scotia, and the House did on the representation of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who certainly was very much more sanguine than he had any right to be.
You have done to the people of Nova Scotia what I maintain is one of the greatest wrongs that despotism in any form can do to any people. You have power to maintain it so long as Nova Scotia has no assistance from outside its own borders, But there is no statesman in England who will venture to bring about the shedding of one drop of blood upon that Continent. No man in this House more entirely hopes that such a thing is absolutely impossible than I do. Yet these questions may be driven to a point where difficulties will arise which the English Parliament will be utterly unable to settle. And whilst we have been endeavouring to bring about important arrangements for the Federation of our fellow-subjects in the British North American Colonies, we may possibly have been taking the step that will thrust them into the United States.
Only the other day I met an Englishman who has lived in the United States, and who is familiar with everything there, and he asked me whether I thought the Government intended to refuse my claim. I said, “I think they do. They generally refuse everything, and I understand they are going to refuse this.” “Well,” he said, “I am very glad to hear that;” which rather struck me with surprise, and, indeed, with pain; and I said, “Why are you glad?” He said, “I believe nothing can prevent the absorption of these colonies within the Republic of the United States;” and he added “There is no step the Government could take so certain to hasten it as to object to your Motion and refuse the Commission of Inquiry which you propose.”
Now, Sir, I cannot say what he says, because I am not glad of it—I regret it, and regret it sincerely, because I think nothing could be more unfortunate for these colonies and this country than that we should do anything to hasten the accession of these colonies to the United States. Our duty is, so far as we can in legislating for them and in governing for them, to do it all freely, honourably, and generously to them, with their consent in every step; and to the last moment that these colonies shall be dependent on the British Crown, that every person within them shall feel that that Crown has not been a Crown of tyranny, but the Crown of just government to them.
Now, Sir, I have submitted this ease. I do not know that it is necessary to say anything more about it. I submit it as I see it, and as it commends itself to my view. It is a case not for opposition nor for obstinacy. It is a case which calls for statesmanship and for justice. Last year the House legislated in error and in the dark. Tonight I hope, after the simple narrative I have given of these transactions, it can never be said that the House can act otherwise than in the broad light of day with respect to this question. I advised the right hon. Gentleman last year, as he knows, not to be precipitate with that Bill. If he had taken my advice this difficulty would not have occurred.
The right hon. Gentleman made a mistake. He placed too much reliance on evidence which was not trustworthy. Now, in this matter I have no party or personal interest to serve. We ought all to be alike anxious that what is just and what is generous should be done to the colony of Nova Scotia, and that fair inquiry should be made into the grievances of which complaint is made. And if the right hon. Gentleman refuses this course, and if difficulties should come of it, the responsibility must rest with the right hon. Gentleman and with his Colleagues; not with me. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolution.”
Mr. Baxter in seconding the Motion, expressed a hope that it would be acceded to by the Government. He believed that if a petition so influentially signed and so effectually worded as that presented by his hon. Friend were entirely disregarded by the Imperial Parliament, consequences must ensue most humiliating and disastrous to this great Empire. If his hon. Friend had proposed that the House should adopt any Resolution or affirm any measure to carry out the views of the delegates of Nova Scotia, then he could understand why the House and Her Majesty’s Government should feel great hesitation in doing anything of the sort. He believed that any Gentleman who had carefully looked at the Papers that had been circulated with regard to this question must admit that the delegates from Nova Scotia bad made out a very strong case.
But his hon. Friend did not ask the House to repeal the Union Act nor to pronounce any opinion on any branch of the subject; all that he asked for was, that having regard to the universal dissatisfaction which prevailed in Nova Scotia, there should be an inquiry into the cause of that dissatisfaction, with a view to its removal. He could scarcely conceive that this House would refuse so reasonable a request, whatever view they might take of the Confederation of Canada.
His hon. Friend had, perhaps, seen the delegates from Nova Scotia; but he (Mr. Baxter) stood in a totally different position. He had not had any communication with those delegates, either direct or indirect. But he had taken the trouble of making inquiry into this matter. He received the other day from a friend long resident in the colony, a gentleman in business at Halifax, and having no connection with the party politics of the colony, a letter which fully confirmed the statements made by the delegates sent over by Nova Scotia, In that letter it was stated that the whole population of the Province was opposed to the union; that the Imperial Government had been entirely deceived as to the feeling of the Nova Scotians themselves; and that the people would resist the change.
It should not be said that, in consequence of our legislation, we had driven a loyal and influential State to take a step of that sort. The letter went on to say that Nova Scotia had already experienced the disastrous effects of the union in the increase of the duties imposed upon most commodities. The Nova Scotians ridiculed, too, the idea, of our giving an Imperial guarantee in connection with the construction of an intercolonial railway, on the ground that they were perfectly able and willing to raise the money themselves.
The colony was one which had been loyal and true, and the people complained that the Act had been passed without seeking their opinion upon it. The people of the colony deserved the utmost consideration at the hands of the Imperial Parliament, and he quite agreed with the hon. Member for Birmingham, that if the House took the strong stop of refusing any inquiry into the case, the people of Nova Scotia might come to the conclusion that the present generation of Englishmen had forgotten the lesson of the American War of Independence. He had much pleasure in seconding the Motion”
§ “Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House is informed, by a Petition presented on the 15th day of May last, signed by 36 out of 38 Members of the House of Assembly of Nova Scotia, and by 16 out of 19 Members elected by that Colony to the House of Commons at Ottawa, that great dissatisfaction prevails in Nova Scotia with the Act passed in the last Session of Parliament, intituled ‘An Act for the Union of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick:’ And that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to appoint a Commission or Commissioners to proceed to Nova Scotia for the purpose of examining into the causes of the alleged discontent, with a view to their consideration and removal.”—(Mr. Bright.)“
Mr. Aytoun said, he hoped the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) would divide the House on his very moderate proposal. He believed the subject to be one of the greatest importance. The union of Nova Scotia with Canada had occasioned very widespread dissatisfaction; and he believed there were good grounds for this discontent. The evil consequences that had arisen were certainly greater than any prospective good that could be anticipated from it.
The duties on the commerce of Nova Scotia had been increased and the control over their own revenue had been taken from them. These evils might be counterbalanced by some prospect of future good; but what could Nova Scotia expect from its union with Canada? All it could hope to derive was an increase of security from aggression on the land side. 1688 It was notorious that in the event of Canada being attacked by the United States, no efficient defence could be made, so that even this benefit was rather imaginary than real.
The main question was this—whether the union had been effected in a way to give the people of Nova Scotia reasonable ground for dissatisfaction? He thought it had. The hon. Member for Birmingham had shown how entirely the Earl of Carnarvon had failed to establish the position that Nova Scotia had been properly consulted on the question; they had not expressed their concurrence in it; and when, on the third reading, Lord Campbell proposed that the Bill should be delayed for a month, to enable the people of Nova Scotia to express their opinion in regard to it at the elections about to be held, the proposal was rejected, and the suggestion that a petition signed by 30,000 upon the subject was ignored because it happened to be presented in “another place.”
Even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire had admitted, speaking on the question of the guarantee for the intercolonial railways, that the Bill had been passed in a manner which, had it related to a matter of legislation affecting ourselves would have been termed precipitancy. The House was, he believed, to a great extent ignorant of the facts of the case; and he thought it would be wise, by granting a Commission, to enable them to judge whether it would not be expedient to reverse the decision taken last year.
The Under Secretary for the Colonies had talked of the expense to which these small colonies had put us; but the expense seemed to be as much since Confederation as before. Whether these Provinces remained united with us or joined the United States, it was of the utmost importance to retain their good-will, and we could only do this by consulting their feelings and by doing them justice. With that view he hoped the Motion of the hon. Member for Birmingham would be assented to by the Government, and if pressed to a division he should support it.”
Admiral Erskine having presented on a former occasion a petition from 31,000 inhabitants of Nova Scotia, wished to say, he believed their disinclination for Confederation was founded, not upon any apprehension of increased burdens or damage to material interests; but rather on a fear lest their connection with this country should he imperilled, for they were distinguished by a rational loyalty based upon identity of feeling and sympathy with ourselves. After the conflicting statements that had been made, it would be unreasonable to refuse the request for inquiry.
Mr. Karslake said, he thought the last letter of the Duke of Buckingham to the colony, dated the present month, showed that the Government intended to consult the interests of Nova Scotia in the future.
Mr. Bright: “I shall make only one or two observations on the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies. His principal objection to my proposition was that the issue of the proposed Commission would, in point of fact, be a direct insult to the whole of the Canadian Dominion. My right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Card well) at the same time said that the Colonial Office, through its new Governor General, and that the Crown through him, would exercise certain influences as far as they might upon the Government at Ottawa for the purpose of adjusting the differences of Nova Scotia.
It appears to me that if my proposition would be held to be an insult, the continual and repeated interferences of the Colonial Office, and of the Crown, through the Governor General, would be liable to the same description. Now, the difference between the Treasury Bench and the right hon. Member for Oxford and myself is this—that they do not regard the present state of things in Nova Scotia as at all as serious as I regard it. Of course, if the thing will blow over, and you can, through the Governor General coming into the harbour at Halifax, and seeing leading men there, rub away everything that is unpleasant, then my Motion is in no degree necessary; but I believe that the state of things is far more serious than either the Under Secretary for the Colonies or my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford seems to suppose.
My own impression is that the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary has made a speech about the most injudicious that could possibly have been made on the question for any Member of this House holding his office; and I believe that when his speech reaches America he will find that it will have a very injurious effect in Nova Scotia, and will not tend in the slightest degree to allay the gathering discontent which is felt in New Brunswick. The right hon. Gentleman, as he does upon other occasions, did me an injustice with regard to what I said last year. He said that when the North American Confederation Bill was under discussion, I approved everything in it which would make the Confederation like America, and condemned everything in it which would] make the Confederation resemble England.
Now, what I condemned in the Bill was the putting a Province into it whose population had not consented; and next I called in question the wisdom of nominating a Legislative Council, or Upper House, for the whole dominion of Canada. The first part of my objection to the Bill, I think, is justified by what has taken place. Although there is no complaint now with regard to the other part of my objection, I have every reason to believe that before we are many years older we shall find that that Council will not be satisfactory to the people of the dominion.
Now, with regard to dividing on this question, I have this to say—If I were to divide with a very small minority, the impression on the other side of the Atlantic would be this—that the House of Commons has emphatically shut the door in the face of the petitioners whose petition I have presented, and whose case I have endeavoured to represent to the House. At the same time, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies holds out no hope whatsoever that the Government will even fairly consider the question. His speech is a speech of indignation positively at the Canadian people coining here to lay their case before this House.
As this House passed the Bill last Session, and the Nova Scotian people came here to lay their complaints before the House, surely they have a right to be treated with great consideration. The course which the right hon. Gentleman has taken forces me to ask the House to divide upon the Motion. I do not at all conceal from myself that the House may not agree to my Motion; but possibly, if they do not, they may, in the course of another year, make an inquiry into this question, and they will then probably discover that it is as serious as I have endeavoured to describe it. The speech which my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford made was temperate and conciliatory; and but for the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary I should not have asked the House to divide.”
Question put. The House divided:—Ayes 87; Noes 183: Majority 96.
MOTION FOR AN ADDRESS, House of Commons Debate 16 June 1868 vol 192 cc1658-96 https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1868/jun/16/motion-for-an-address