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In the winter session of 1864, as Premier of Nova Scotia, I introduced and carried a resolution in favour of a legislative union of the Maritime Provinces, explaining that I regarded it as a step in the direction of a wider union, in the way of which insuperable difficulties then existed.
Delegates from the three provinces, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick, were appointed to attend a conference to be held at Charlottetown on September Ist of that year. The Hon. Joseph Howe was the first man I invited to attend, as I valued the strength of his influence. Mr. Howe, however, wrote declining the invitation on the ground that he was then a Fisheries officer in the employ of the Imperial Government, but wished us success, adding that he would return from a cruise on a warship in October, and would do everything in his power to carry out any policy we adopted at Charlottetown.
After the action of the Nova Scotia Legislature, and before the Charlottetown Conference, wearied with prolonged conflict, Upper and Lower Canada made a desperate effort to relieve themselves from a tangle of difficulties that hindered all progress. The Government, being outvoted, made overtures to the Hon. George Brown, leader of the Opposi
tion, and a coalition Government was formed with the avowed object of bringing about Confederation. Later the governors of the Maritime Provinces received a despatch from the Governor-General inquiring whether the Charlottetown Conference would receive a deputation from the Canadian Government, which wished to express its views on the wider union.
Favourable replies were sent, and we received the delegates with open arms. There was free and frank discussion of the subject, and after a ten-days' conference a motion for adjournment to meet in Quebec on October roth, to adopt a basis of union, was agreed to. The Canadian delegates received a hearty welcome in every city and town they visited, and were handsomely entertained. The list comprised the Hon. John A. Macdonald, the Hon. George Brown, the Hon. Alexander T. Galt, the Hon. George E. Cartier, the Hon. Hector L. Langevin, the Hon. William Macdougall, and the Hon. Thos. D'Arcy McGee.
Before returning to Quebec the delegates went by steamer to Halifax, where I presided at a complimentary banquet at which the Hon. Joseph Howe, in an eloquent speech, wished all success to the Confederation movement. There was also a note of united sentiment and united purpose in the deliverances of the visiting delegates, including the Hon. John A. Macdonald, the Hon. George E. Cartier, the Hon. George Brown, and the Hon. Thos. D'Arcy McGee.
The Quebec Conference, which was also attended by delegates from Newfoundland, assembled on October roth and concluded its deliberations on
October 27th. It met under the sanction of the Crown. The mayor, who was not any too friendly towards Confederation, presided at a banquet at which I made the principal speech in reply on behalf of the delegation from the Lower Provinces. There was a wonderful accord among the various representatives in regard to general principles involved in drafting a basis of union. We agreed that representation should be by population, and that the Province of Quebec, as most unlikely to change, should be the pivot, receiving sixty-five members for ever, and that the other provinces should have representation based on that figure in order to prevent the House of Commons becoming too large and unwieldy.
The Hon. John A. Macdonald was originally in favour of a legislative union of the whole as a matter of theory, but when he took up the subject he was in accord with the others, that the only practical solution was by the adoption of a federal scheme. There was considerable discussion as to whether the Dominion Senate should be elective or nominative. The only individual among the thirty-three delegates who raised objections to its being nominative was the Hon. Oliver Mowat, a member of the coalition Government, who, however, did not challenge a vote. That was all the more surprising as Canada at that period had an elective senate.
On my motion it was agreed that the first federal senate should be composed of the members of existing legislative councils of all the provinces, the various governments to select them in equal numbers from both parties as far as practicable.
A resolution in favour of building an inter-colonial railway was also adopted at Quebec.
My fellow delegates from Nova Scotia were the Hon. W. A. Henry, the Hon. R. B. Dickey, the Hon. Jonathan McCully, and the Hon. A. G. Archibald. A number of the delegates toured Ontario and Quebec before returning home, and received a very hearty reception. The members of the Quebec Conference agreed that the basis of the arrangement should first be endorsed by the various provincial legislatures before the Imperial Government should be asked to pass the necessary legislation to give effect to the union.
Certain happenings in the following year in the Lower Provinces made the outlook for Confederation, however, anything but favourable. Premier Tilley, in New Brunswick, appealed to the country, and had to give way to an anti-confederate Government. The same thing happened in Prince Edward Island. Under these circumstances I had no alternative but to adopt a waiting policy, feeling confident that the public, alarmed by the unfounded representations of our opponents, would sooner or later undergo a change. My surmise proved correct.
A large number of my own supporters, including prominent Halifax bankers and business men, opposed the union movement, and the Hon. Joseph Howe, then out of public life, was tempted to accept the leadership, and to repudiate completely the views he had formerly expressed. The agitation soon assumed large proportions, and the issue sharply divided the population. It was aggravated by the hostility displayed towards free schools. In 1864, owing to the backward state of education in
the province, I passed a Bill providing for a double grant to every school voluntarily accepting taxation for the support of free schools. This inducement proved a failure, and in the following year I succeeded in enacting a more sweeping measure providing for free schools, supported by compulsory taxation. As the Conservatives were the larger property holders, they offered strong oppo sition, while the Liberals, generally speaking, were favourable to free schools.
Seeing that New Brunswick was fast coming into line, I introduced a resolution in the Legislature in April, 1866, in favour of sending delegates, with the other provinces, to a conference in London to negotiate finally the terms of union. The resolution passed both Houses by a large majority. Subsequently the Federation party, led by the Hon. Mr. Tilley, swept New Brunswick, whose Legislature met and adopted a similar resolution. The united Parliament of Upper and Lower Canada had made a similar pronouncement in the previous year. All this cleared the way for the London Conference. Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland abstained from the movement.
On December 4th, 1866, the following delegates assembled in conference at the Westminster Palace Hotel, London :
Canada.—The Hon. John A. Macdonald, the Hon. George E. Cartier, the Hon. A. T. Galt, the Hon. Wm. Macdougall, the Hon. W. P. Howland, and the Hon. H. L. Langevin.
Nova Scotia.—The Hon. Charles Tupper, the Hon. W. A. Henry, the Hon. J. W. Ritchie, the Hon. J. McCully, the Hon. A. G. Archibald.