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The Colonial Convention

Article tiré de :
Morning Chronicle (Halifax) Le 10 septembre 1864, p. 2

Sir, -- In a previous letter I gave you a brief history of the Conference now holding its sittings here, and of the proceedings so far as I was enabled to collect them, having first separated, as my judgment best dictated, what I apprehend was the chaff, and mere chaff, from the wheat -- gossip from reality.

The Conference sits daily now, from ten to three, without interruption or adjournment. Yesterday morning, before the hour of business, they all repaired to the lawn in front of Government House, and were photographed in a group, by an artist named Roberts, from St. John. Some wag remarked that he thought they would discover that "the Conference was sold."

But to resume. It is difficult, as previously intimated, to furnish the public with any entirely reliable information, and the reader must remember that what I am about to narrate is probably rather an approximation to facts, than themselves. Perhaps I could not do better by way of further introduction, than give you a few extracts from the Examiner, an Island paper, published by Edward Whelan, Esq., a member of the Opposition in the Island Legislature. In his last number, speaking editorially, he says:

"We are quite certain that Charlottetown was never honored, on any occasion, by the presence of so many distinguished visitors as at present reside within and in the vicinity of its quiet borders. The delegates from Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia comprise the ablest men of those Provinces, several of who have earned for themselves a North American reputation, as wide and as envious as that which falls to the lot of many European statesmen. While we are meeting them all, face to face, every day, it would be most invidious to single out for complimentary notice any particular member of the conference. We will only say, take them all in all, they are a class of men of whom British America has no reason to be ashamed. They are earnestly anxious to make themselves acquainted with the public men of this Island -- to witness for themselves the attractions which nature has lavished upon it everywhere -- to see our people in all moods and phases of life, and to fraternise with them right heartily. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose by cultivating the kindly feelings with which our Province visitors have come among us. That the sisterhood of the Provinces will form themselves into a great nation, is merely a question of time -- that they have all the elements of making a great nation, admits of no question at all. The statement and public writers of Great Britain are constantly urging upon us the necessity of a Union of some kind, which would greatly lessen the charges upon the Imperial treasury, as every part of their civil list would then have to be paid by the Colonists themselves, and as they would have to provide for the maintenance of their own military and naval forces. England, evidently, is not willing that we should remain much longer as we are. We, ourselves, begin to see that we must change our condition. We discern the necessity for Union in a thousand forms; we see it in the want of uniformity in our tariffs; in our customs regulations; in our currency. The want of Union stares us broadly in the face when we feel ourselves tossed and tumbled about on the billows of local sectional strife, at the mercy of unprincipled political wreckers, eager to plunder the little bark of state for their own personal aggrandizement, and the fiercest and foremost of whom are, we are ashamed to say, those who wear the parson's gown. We see the want of a Union that that will elevate us to a higher standard in political life -- that will stretch our mental vision beyond the narrow bounds by which we are circumscribed, and save our public men from the low intrigues and paltry cunning by which they scramble their way into the little offices which merely afford them common laborer's wages, dignified by the name of salaries."

Mr. Whelan, who it is here supposed is largely inspired by Mr. Coles, the leader of the Opposition in the Lower House, and who is a member of the Conference, then proceeds as follows:

"The views of the gentlemen now in Conference, representing all the Provinces -- or the views, at least, of a majority of them – assume this shape: Each province to retain its own Government, nearly as now constituted; the numbers of members in the several Legislatures may, without detriment to the local interests, be reduced; the Governor would cease to be a servant of the Crown, doing the bidding of the Crown -- he would be elected by the people, paid by them, and accountable to them for his conduct; the expenses of the Civil Lists, and those entailed by a Provincial Army and Navy, would devolve upon the Provinces, which should pay according to their means and population. Each Province should provide for the payment of its own debt, and one Province not be taxed for the payment of another's debt. Each should contribute its proportion towards the expense of a Central Government and Central Parliament, in which all the Provinces would be represented. Whether this representation would be regulated by area and population, or whether each Province, the small as well as the large, would be entitled to send the same number of representatives, is a matter of detail which can only be settled by the separate Provincial Legislatures, or by future Conventions, such as that now sitting here. England's connection with the Colonies would be represented merely by having a Viceroy to preside over the deliberations of the United Government. He would have no power to check local legislation in any way; he could not suppress the action of the Federal Legislature unless it interfered with imperial interests -- all matters relating to intercolonial trade, commerce and military defences -- railways and maritime steam communication -- light houses, currency, and postal relations -- emigration -- settlement of wild lands -- land tenures, when they possess a provincial character as they do here -- uniformity in the system of education -- all these things would come under the supervision of the Confederate Legislature, and the then so-called Colonial Minister in Downing Street would have no more right to interfere with our mode of managing them than the man in the moon."

From what I can gather, I am apt to think that some portion of this extract is wide of the mark. If the Maritime Provinces, instead of uniting legislatively, adopt the Canadian project of a confederation, either as one legislative body or as at present, three - and it is said the Canadians are agreed as to either mode, -- but allowing the whole three the status and representation of one, -- in either case the public debts, I apprehend, are to be shouldered by the federal government, and consolidated, and the several governments to give up that portion of their respective revenues derivable from customs and excise, reserving, however, their crown lands, mines and minerals -- in other words, the casual and territorial revenues -- for local purposes.

As regards representation, it is the better opinion that in the Lower House it will be by population; in the Upper House, as in the American Senate, by an equality of voices from Upper and Lower Canada, and the Maritime Provinces as a whole; that is to say, suppose the Upper House should be composed of sixty members, then Upper Canada would have twenty, Lower Canada twenty, and the three Maritime Provinces twenty among them -- the scheme to embrace Newfoundland also, at a ratio approximate to this.

Up to this morning, since the first day of meeting, the Canadians have met with the delegates. To-day, however, I notice that the Conference is proceeding in their absence. The prevailing opinion is, that the representatives of the Maritime Provinces are discussing the subject of union among themselves, either in the abstract of in relation to the confederation. If they can see their way clear to enter the confederation without hazarding their separate interests and being overborne by the upper provinces, I am apt to think, after all, that the idea of a legislative union of the three will be suspended, at all events for the present. The effort of accomplishing the double organization -- both a legislative union of the three and a confederation of the whole at once -- would probably tax the powers of human effort too heavily. Either operation involves a shock that must necessarily unsettle existing organization to a large extent. But I cannot as yet sufficiently well inform myself t speak with any degree of certainty as to what is even probably on this point. The Examiner, you will perceive, gives a classification of the subjects which would come under the supervision of the Confederate Legislature. I am apt to think that this is rather an imperfect list. I have what I conceive pretty good authority for supposing that the list is larger, and that it would embrace currency, trade, banking, usury laws, bankruptcy, insolvency, sea fisheries, light houses, navigation, coinage, weights and measures, interest, marriage and divorce, naturalization, telegraphs, patents and copyrights, census, immigration, postal service, Intercolonial works of all kinds, railways, canals, harbors, militia and defence, criminal law, and like subjects; leaving to the local Legislatures such subjects as roads and bridges, agriculture, hospitals and charitable institutions, prisons, mines, minerals, timber and public lands, education, inland fisheries, police and summary punishment of crimes, and such like.

Whether the Constitution of the Upper House is to be elective or appointed by the Crown, I have not learned; but the better opinion seems to be that is not to be elective. The duration of the Federal Assembly, it is said, will not be less than four years -- at least that the opinion of the majority is to that effect.

There is much also said to have been discussed, the Judiciary and the existence of a Federal Court of Apellate [sic] Jurisdiction, which is likely to be located. The Superior Court Judges for all, it is said, would probably be appointed by the Federal Executive, but from the Bars of the respective Provinces; but, I apprehend, beyond loose discussion, nothing certain or conclusive or binding, has been arrived at. In fact no power to do so exists, and it is rather with a view of interchanging ideas in relation to future action that the discussion proceeds, than the transaction of any business at present, that the Canadian delegates present their scheme.

The Halifax delegates having invited the entire delegation to visit Halifax, the Canadian steamer is to embark them on Thursday evening, at the conclusion of a public ball, to be given in honor by the Island Government, and they are all expected to reach Halifax by Friday evening, I hear, going over in the Victoria, and taking the Albion Mines and New Glasgow in their way, unless some of them prefer to go around by steamer.


P.S. -- Wednesday being spent in discussion, the conference adjourned till Saturday, 10th, at Halifax, at 12 o'clock. To-morrow will be devoted to pleasure and a visit to the North side of the Island.