Three Weeks in Quebec City

Three Weeks in Quebec City

The Meeting That Made Canada

Book - 2015
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In 1864, thirty-three delegates from five provincial legislatures came to Quebec City to pursue the idea of uniting all the provinces of British North America. The American Civil War, not yet over, encouraged the small and barely defended provinces to consider uniting for mutual protection. But there were other factors: the rapid expansion of railways and steamships spurred visions of a continent-spanning new nation.

Federation, in principle, had been agreed on at the Charlottetown conference, but now it was time to debate the difficult issues of how a new nation would be formed. The delegates included John A. Macdonald, George Etienne-Cartier, and George Brown. Historian Christopher Moore demonstrates that Macdonald, the future prime minister, surprisingly was not the most significant player here, and Canada could have become a very different place.

The significance of this conference is played out in Canadian news each day. The main point of contention at the time was the issue of power--a strong federal body versus stronger provincial rights. Because of this conference, we have an elected House of Commons, an appointed Senate, a federal Parliament, and provincial legislatures. We have what amounts to a Canadian system of checks and balances. Did it work then, and does it work now?

Publisher: Toronto :, Allan Lane,, 2015
ISBN: 9780670065257
Branch Call Number: 971.049 MOO
Characteristics: viii, 262 pages ; 24 cm

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baldand
Jul 03, 2017

The Quebec City conference was, arguably, the most important of the three conferences that led to Confederation. It was here that the 72 resolutions were passed by representatives of the colonial governments that would substantially define the British North America Act.
In the present bitterly polarized political climate in Canada, Moore provides us a timely reminder that Confederation was only achieved because colonial politicians collaborated and put their partisan differences aside. George-Étienne Cartier, the leader of the Bleus in Lower Canada, and George Brown, the leader of the Reformers in Upper Canada, agreed to a coalition government of the colony of Canada in June 1864, with a union of the colonies of British North America as their goal. Earlier, in 1858, Cartier and Brown had already tried to do the same thing, without any success, but the passage of six years had made the idea of Confederation more palatable. The delegates from the Atlantic colonies also represented, for every colony, both the party in power and opposition members. (Only New Brunswick had a Reform government; the others were governed by Conservatives.) It was felt that on such an important matter as turning colonial legislatures into provincial legislatures in a Canadian federation, delegates representing the legislatures, not just the executive, had to be on side, so they all had bipartisan delegations.
As Moore shows, some of the alleged defects of the Quebec resolutions that found their way into the BNA Act seemed highly reasonable at the time. All of the colonies at the conference had bicameral legislatures, so there was no chance that the delegates would agree to the Canadian federation having a unicameral legislature. An elected Senate and a senate with equal representation for each of the new provinces were all considered and rejected at the time. In particular, an elected Senate was unpalatable to those who were already concerned that the provinces would have too much power in the federation. Having the provinces rather than the federal government choose senators was rejected for the same reason. George Brown, ahead of the curve, proposed a resolution that would get rid of the upper houses in all provinces with Confederation. It was rejected, but he did succeed in ensuring that Ontario had no upper house from 1867 forward. Eventually all provinces got rid of their upper houses.
Putting a repatriation formula in their resolutions was a non-starter. It would have been rejected out of hand by the British government; Confederation would not and could not immediately give the British North American colonies full independence from British rule.

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GlenAbbeyWarrior
Mar 10, 2016

As someone who likes to read about dead white guys, even I was having trouble getting into this book. Although there are many interesting stories, like how our god-awful undemocratic Senate was created and how the division of powers ended up backfiring on those who wanted a strong centralized government, the author presented his take on these events in a very dry fashion. I felt that a lot more could have gone into this book such as increased context and a more descriptive look at the key players.

r
rpavlacic
Jun 27, 2015

Good look into the meetings that formed the basis of the Canadian federation that came into being in 1867. Of note are the 72 Resolutions, printed as an appendix, many of which found its way (word-for-word or paraphrased) into the Constitution. They were also worded anticipating Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland would join the new country - and one can only speculate the shape things would have taken if they had rather than wait it out. The book makes it clear, however, the provinces were never meant to have totally equal powers - New Brunswick wanted total control of its forests, Quebec its Civil Code, and so forth - and the resolutions made provision for that as well. A good read for anyone who wants to know how the Canada we now know really got started.

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