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S-236, Recognition of Charlottetown as the Birthplace of Confederation Bill - Third Reading

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Griffin, seconded by the Honourable Senator Dean, for the third reading of Bill S-236, An Act to recognize Charlottetown as the birthplace of Confederation, as amended.

Senator Joyal: I will be brief, honourable senators, because I want to put on the record a certain number of facts that I think are important to understand the substance of this bill.

First of all, I want to mention — and I think that Senator McIntyre can confirm this — that Charlottetown was chosen as the place of meeting of the three Maritime provinces on the initiative of the Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick because the Lieutenant-Governor of Prince Edward Island would not have participated in the meeting had it not taken place in Charlottetown.

Unless Senator McIntyre, from New Brunswick, wants to contradict this point or this historical information, that's what the historians have informed us about the selection of Charlottetown as the meeting place of the three Maritime provinces to unite under the initiative or push by the Colonial Office in London. In those years, you will remember that there was the Civil War in the United States, a war that left more than 800,000 dead on the battlefield, and it was a push among the northern army. Once they had finished with the south, they would move across the border and would try for the third time to make Canada part of the United States.

So there was pressure from London on the Maritime provinces to try to unite and form a government. In fact, Nova Scotia participated in the conference because they had as an objective to make Halifax the capital of the three united Maritime provinces. In other words, each of them had a specific agenda in meeting in Charlottetown, but they thought that they would invite, as observers, the representative of the United Province of Canada — Ontario and Quebec, reunited, as you know, since 1840, in the United Province of Canada.

The delegates from the United Province, George Brown and John A. Macdonald, were invited as observers. They were not to take part in the negotiations, because the very objective of the meeting was to unite the three provinces, not to unite the three provinces with the United Province of Canada.

In the course of the discussion and the schmoozing that takes place in any kind of political gathering that, finally, Brown and Macdonald proposed that the union be enlarged, that it could include the United Province of Canada, as well as the need to go to a second conference in Quebec some months later to continue the discussion.

That is an important element to understand the process. When we read a bill and say, "Charlottetown is the birthplace of Confederation," we are tempted to conclude that it happened with inspiration from somebody above, whereby all those people met and saw the light that Canada would be a big country.

The Charlottetown meeting was essentially a process that finally was resolved three years later, but the strange thing is that three years later, Prince Edward Island was not of the founding provinces of Canada. The four provinces that were at the origin of Canada were Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec. Prince Edward Island was not part of Canada. Prince Edward Island became part of Canada only in 1875, after Manitoba — I am looking at Senator Plett — was created as a province in 1870 and after British Columbia joined the federation in 1871. That opened the opportunity or prospect that Canada would extend from coast to coast, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Then, in 1875, because Prince Edward Island's financial situation was in dire condition, the Government of Canada offered to buy out the debt of Prince Edward Island. Prince Edward Island was solicited by American delegates to try to join Canada. In other words, more or less, Canada bought out Prince Edward Island to join Canada. It was only in 1875 that finally Prince Edward Island became the seventh province of Canada.

One has to take that into account when we say that Charlottetown is the birthplace or the cradle of Confederation. It's a mono-parental cradle, because there is somebody missing in the birthplace, which is one of the parents of Confederation.

When we look into this bill and try to understand how Canada was built, it was not built at the beginning in a grand design; it was built, first and foremost, to try to alleviate the financial and economic conditions, to address the problems of the threat that the United States represented to the individual British colonies, and to try to build on the best of the railroad linking all of those provinces together so there would be a permanent link of communication.

I want to put that on the record, honourable senators, in following up from Senator McIntyre, because it is important to understand that what happened in Charlottetown is a process. The process was initiated, but it was definitely not the final process, because as you all know, the first proposal was a legislative union, not a division of power between the provinces and the central or national government. It was supposed to be only one legislative union.

It's only in Quebec, when George-Étienne Cartier looked into what would happen, that francophones would be drawn into a large number of English-speaking citizens, that they sought to say, "Let's divide the power so that there will be a better balance and protection of regional identities for the Maritime provinces, and of cultural and religious identity for French Canadians," as they were called in those days.

In other words, it is very important to understand the dynamics that took place. Otherwise, we create the false impression that it is an easy initiative, and it all happened because we saw the light in Charlottetown and everybody was happy.

As a matter of fact, one year after Confederation, Nova Scotia sought to leave Confederation. There was an election, and the result was 38-36, a majority to leave Confederation a year after. That didn't happen because everybody was happy. July 1, 1867, a year later, there was an initiate to try to part from Confederation. Joseph Howe, who was at the head of the separation movement, was finally included in the discussions with the federal government. He joined the government and was appointed a minister. Finally, his position melted down.

Again, as I have illustrated, among the four founding provinces, one wanted to leave the year after, and one of the provinces that did attend in Charlottetown didn't join the federation until seven years later.

One has to understand those details to see how far we've come since 1864, when the first meeting took place.

I say that to Senator Griffin, because I'm sure that doesn't reduce in any way the symbolism of this bill. It is important to understand how all those things happened to better realize that Canada is not a country that has been built easily.

Canada doesn't maintain its unity easily, either. I don't need to tell you how many referendums we had to maintain the unity of this country in 1897. The only province that joined the federation through the will of its population directly is Newfoundland and Labrador. It was called Newfoundland in those days, as Your Honour will know. It was only 1949. And Nunavut became a territory only in 1999.

Canada is a work-in-progress. Our unity has to be strengthened. We have to be mindful and understand very well the difficulties and challenges we face as a nation to make sure that we remain together and maintain that level of freedom, prosperity and pride in who we are and how we have achieved this great country.

It is those reflections that I wanted to share, especially with the sponsor of the bill, Senator Griffin, and I espouse to you, honourable senators.

Challenges lie ahead for our country. When I look at Senator Brazeau, we still know that our unity is not complete as long as we will not have recognized properly the contribution of Aboriginal peoples to who we are and how the challenges we have ahead have to be met with all the obligations and responsibility that objective entails.

Thank you, honourable senators.

Hon. Carolyn Stewart Olsen: Would Senator Joyal take a question, please?

Senator Joyal: Yes.

Senator Stewart Olsen: Thank you for the history lesson. It's a little different lesson than the history I learned. Being from the Maritimes, I did not hear that Sir John A. and cohort were invited, but that rather they crashed the meeting.

The total history of the wonderfulness was not really supported in real life. In New Brunswick, there came a time when they realized they had been scuppered by the upper Canadians, and that they stood to lose a great deal.

So I think that has to be factored in. I get the nuance that you provided there, but I think we have to look at the real facts. Buying out your debt and infiltrating with your politics in the provinces was a really — they were brilliant politicians but it began the considerable downfall of the rest of Atlantic Canada. So I just want to put that on there because it was not all roses.

Senator Joyal: Very quickly, Mr. Speaker, thank you. I think you know there are people who crash parties without bringing booze with them. I will call him John A. MacDonald with all the respect I owe to the first Prime Minister of Canada, but I think in relation to that, at that time, John A. Macdonald and George Brown, as you know, heard that there was a meeting taking place, or that was to take place, in Charlottetown, and in order to schmooze and better create the ambience of easiness with which champagne normally provides the mind, they came down with their load of support to make sure that they would be heard and that they would be seen as bringing something to the table. But if I may say so, they left the party with doggy bags because, in fact, when they went back to Quebec, they were able to convince the Maritime representative and delegates to continue the discussion on a wider basis.

As a matter of fact, I think what you say just confirms that it was a work-in-progress, or a dinner in progress, as I should say.