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Confederation and the people

The following article is from:
The Evening Times (Hamilton) Monday, November 21, 1864

The managers of the Confederation scheme seem to be doing their best to render their work unpopular, and secure for it an amount of opposition that on its merit it would never receive. Instead of presenting it to the public in a straightforward manner, in a manner expressive of their confidence in its inherent value, they seem determined to create difficulties where none should exist, and keep up obstructions in their own path. Let us see how it has been conducted. Some thirty gentlemen occupying official positions in the respective provinces received, without any authorization from the Parliaments they represented, to meet at Quebec for the purpose of initiating a scheme for the Confederation of all the Provinces, and preparing a constitution for the Government of the Provinces when so united. They met, and in a few weeks of hurried work conducted with as much secrecy as could be maintained, settled on the details of a change in our whole system of Government, and drafted a constitution under which they propose we shall live for all time to come. So far, we presume, their action was unblameable. Although they engaged in a work to which they had not been called by the people, they were acting under the authority of the Queen's representative, and in addition to this, they, as the leading [...] of the Provinces, were the ones whom public opinion, if it had been consulted, would have pointed out as the best qualified for the task.

Public opinion was not consulted at first and it submitted with good grace. But public opinion has not been consulted since and it being moreover announced that public opinion will not be consulted at all, public opinion is growing indignant and hostile. The people were content that in the initiatory steps they should be excluded and that while the deliberations on their future political fate were going on the doors of the conference room should be closed upon them; but when all this was over and the scheme fully developed, they certainly hoped that sufficient respect would be shown them to lay before them the results arrived at. Such has not been the case. Eaves-droppings of what has been effected, stray paragraphs picked up by keen scented reporters, disjointed remarks made in after dinner speeches, are their sole portion. True we have the constitution given us in full, but in this we are over blessed, for we have so many constitutions given us that the matter is becoming more hopelessly confused than ever. The Journal de Quebec was the first to come out with the confederate scheme in detail, but it carefully introduced it with the remark that it was gathered from newspaper reports -- which in plain English meant that it was a hodgepodge of rumors and facts, more likely to be false than true. The Montreal Gazette not to be outdone by its French contemporary, soon after produced another constitution, which it pronounced a nearer approach to correctness that that of the Journal. Then came amendments to the Journal, which it was contended made its scheme perfect. The Globe pronounced them both incorrect and this morning lays before its readers a third constitution, which is of course the one, without shadow of doubt. As the constitution increases in perfection in travelling westward, as witness the Quebec, Montreal, and Toronto versions, we presume that the final and authorized text will turn up somewhere about Windsor, or, perhaps, Vancouver's Island. These constitutions are very good and the Quebec Journal, the Montreal Gazette and the Toronto globe deserve great credit for their Ingenuity as constitution makers, but what the people would like to see is the Quebec Conference's constitution. Our appreciation of the labors of the press compel us to place great value upon newspaper schemes, but at the same time, the scheme of the Conference officially announced is the one of the most practical importance at present. As it has been completed, signed and sealed, it would not be a work of extreme difficulty to give its text to the people, with such endorsation as would enable them to feel positive that at length they had obtained the pure article direct from the fountain head.

With reference to the second step in the mismanagement, the expressed intention of adopting the new constitution without an appeal to the people, there is little to be said. The Globe and whatever other journals may favor it, may exhaust columns in showing the expense of another election, the uselessness of another election, the injurious effects of another election, and the thousand and one other evils that would result from an appeal to the people, but plausible as these reasonings may appear, they are crushed beneath the weight of the single reason offered in favor of an appeal to the people. If the people have any political power, if their voice should ever be heard, their power should be felt and their voice be heard on a question in which their whole future destiny is involved. If their direct decision on the Confederation question is unnecessary, we know of no question that has arisen in the past, we can imagine none in the future, of sufficient importance to justify an appeal to them. The polling booths thereafter may as well be turned into pig pens and the voters' lists cut up into pipe lighters.

What good all this mystery is to do -- what benefits are to result from the attempt to ignore the people -- we know not; what evils are resulting, and will result from it, we do know. Extremely favorable to the scheme at first, there is a feeling growing up, that if they are to be completely shut out from participation in the movement, they may be compelled in the future to disown it, as none of their creation. They are beginning to matter that if the assent of the people is so trifling a matter now, that assent may not be forthcoming when it will be essential. For their assent is essential, and must be obtained, in spite of all that politicians may say or do. The Cabinet may pooh pooh it, and the Globe frown it down; but he will be a daring member of the Legislature who consents to a scheme that will never alter our whole constitution without first ascertaining the will of his constituents. That will must be consulted yet, and the attempt to smother its expression can have no effect except that of irritating it.