[Ed. In an unexplained incident of Confederation, William Miller, to this point a key Nova Scotian opponent of the Quebec plan of Confederation, performs an about face and delivers this major speech in favour of Confederation. While we can’t be sure of the reasons for Miller’s change of heart, his call for a revised plan of Union on equitable terms paved the way for Nova Scotia’s participation in the London Conference of 1866. Just a week later, Tupper secured the support of the Nova Scotia legislature to send delegates to England. Also included below is Charles Tupper’s surprised but magnanimous response, and the angry retort by William Annand, another principal opponent of Confederation – in which readers can see something of the passions aroused that would lead to the election of Canada’s first separatist government in Nova Scotia in 1867.]
Mr. Miller said – I rise, Mr. Speaker, to address the House on a question of the deepest importance to the people of this country – a question in comparison with which all other public questions may be truly said to sink into insignificance – I mean the great question of British Colonial Union. If, sir, the subject was less important than it is, I would not venture, as I now do, to trespass on the attention of hon. gentlemen in reference to it, in the absence of any motion before this House. The course I am about to adopt is the result of much deliberation, and I shall bring myself within the rules of the House by making an enquiry of the Government before I resume my seat.
Sir, on no occasion during my comparatively short professional and public career, have I risen to address any body of men impressed with a deeper sense of the grave responsibilities of my position than I now feel. But, on the other hand, I can truly say, on no occasion, involving public responsibilities, have I been animated by stronger convictions of the propriety of the step I am about to take than I am at this moment.
For the past two years, Mr. Speaker, the question of an Union of the British North American Provinces has been before the people of this country, and I need hardly state my views have obtained some publicity, and myself dome prominence, in opposition to the Quebec scheme of Confederation. To that scheme, I am now as hostile as I have ever been. I believe it to be unjust to the people of the Maritime Provinces in some of its most important features. I believe to force it upon us, without important modifications, would frustrate the end it is intended to promote – the permanency of British Institutions on this continent. These were my opinions in 1864. They have undergone no change. They are my opinions today.
But, Sir, it is well known to this House and to the people of the country, that, notwithstanding the strenuous and unwavering opposition I have given to the Quebec scheme of Confederation, I have invariably declared myself in favour of an equitable union of these colonies. During the agitation of this question, I have spoken on it in Parliament and at Public meetings, in several counties of this Province, and nowhere have I failed to express in unequivocal language my desire for union on fair terms.
I can appeal to those who have listened to me in both extremes of Nova Scotia, whether in Cape Breton or in Lunenburg, in support of this assertion. But, Sir, I can appeal to something stronger, if the consistency of my conduct in this Legislature is called in question – I can appeal to the official records of this House. I can go even further and appeal to the gentlemen with whom I have cooperated for the last eighteen months in opposition to the scheme of the Quebec Conference, many of whom are opposed to all union, and who will bear me ready witness that my cooperation in the anti-union movement in this Province, has only extended to the details of that scheme.
The subject of a union of British America, since I have been capable of forming a judgment on the question, has found favour with me. Apart from the material advantages of such a union, there is something in the assurance of national strength and greatness to be derived from it, which is in sympathy with the best feelings and aspirations of every British American whose future is wrapped up with the future of this country. For years past I have entertained a strong opinion on the subject – an opinion that the period was fast approaching when these North American colonies must cast off their present political habiliments, and assume others more consistent with their advanced position, their surroundings, and their altered relations to the Empire.
I was in favour of their political union before the subject was presented to the country in any tangible shape. I am in favour of it now, after having given the question much attention and thought, and after the bitter and prolonged agitation it has produced in this Province. The first opinion I publicly expressed in favour of it, was in the debate in this House on the resolution introduced in 1864, by the honourable Provincial Secretary for a union of the Maritime Provinces, when I am correctly reported to have used this language:
If the resolution before the House contemplated a union of all the Provinces of British North America on equitable terms no one could hail it with more satisfaction than himself. Such a Union he trusted at no distant period would become both a commercial and political necessity. He looked forward hopefully to the day when the inhabitants of these noble Provinces, united under one government, might stand before the world in the proud national character of British Americans. From such an association they would indeed derive national strength and dignity worth some sacrifice to obtain. They would then possess a population and country whose immediate status and inevitable future destiny would command respect. A union of the Maritime Provinces and the great territory beyond would give us a country extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with all the diversified resources necessary to the most unlimited material progress. In favour of such a proposal most of the arguments urged in this debate would have real point and force, and not appear, as they now did, absurd or inapplicable.
From the above paragraph, Mr. Speaker, it will be seen, and indeed the fact is one of notoriety in this House, that before the Quebec scheme of Confederation was in existence, I had placed on record my decided approval of a union of British America on equitable terms. I think I will have no difficulty in shewing that though prominent in my opposition to the Quebec scheme of Union, I have always been favourable to the abstract idea of Union.
My first appearance before the public in opposition to that scheme was at a mass meeting of the citizens of Halifax in December, 1864, about nine months after the above declaration in Parliament, and although I spoke under circumstances of much irritation, I did not allow any personal annoyance to draw me into antagonism to the great principle of Colonial Union. Looking back, sir, to that occasion, and recollecting the excitement that marked it, I find no ordinary degree of satisfaction at the emphatic manner in which I preserved my consistency on the great principle involved in that discussion. I said:
I do not wish, Mr. Mayor, that my appearance on this platform tonight should be construed into opposition to a Union of British America on fair terms. I am not opposed to, but on the contrary, would support a Union based on sound principles and equitable terms. But the more I investigated the subject, the more reason do I find to fear that an equitable Union with Canada is not easily attainable. I am not willing to purchase confederation on conditions disastrous to the people of Nova Scotia. These are the reasons why I oppose the measure by which Confederation is now to be secured. I cannot ratify the improvident bargain our delegates have made, because it is unjust to this Province. It is a bargain in which the advantages are all on one side, and all against us.
I repeat, sir, when I look back to the period at which these remarks were uttered – when I remember the excitement and personal acrimony that marked, in some instances, the discussion of this subject in Temperance Hall, I am exceedingly gratified today, that no temporary provocation could induce me to denounce all union, as others did; but that I wisely contented myself with hostility to the particular scheme then under consideration. I do not deny that in the warmth of an exciting platform discussion I may not have used language that I in times of greater coolness would not have uttered. But no candid man would think of binding another too strictly to every expression used before an excited popular assemblage, amid the cheers of his friends and the hisses of his opponents. It is only proper to recollect that everything I then said – every argument I advanced – was directed solely to the end of defeating the Quebec Resolutions.
When the question came before the Legislature at a late period last session, I intended to have fully explained my position and views, but in common with a number of gentlemen on both sides – for reasons which will be found in the reported debates – I denied myself the pleasure of speaking on it at any length. In the few remarks I did make, however, I find the following decided reiteration of all my previous declarations:
If I have any desire for a union, it is for the larger one. The opinion I held last year I hold now. My opposition has not been to union in the abstract, but to the terms on which it was secured. I defy anyone to find a single passage in anything I have said which proves that I am opposed to a Union on equitable terms.
Sir, I do not think I require to say a single word in addition to what is contained in the official records of this House, to show that from my first appearance in this Legislature up to the present time, I have been favourable to a union of these Provinces. I am chargeable with not sudden conversion to that opinion – nay, more, I am chargeable with no inconsistency in regard to it. Every one who understands the difference between the principle of a measure and its details, is well aware that in supporting the principle of any scheme a party does not commit himself to its details. The absurdity of any other assumption is too apparent to call for comment. In the same way, in opposing the details of a measure, it does not follow that we oppose its principle. I do not make these obvious remarks for gentlemen in this House, but for those elsewhere who may not as readily appreciate the distinction.
What, then, has been my position on this great question up to the present time? My position has been that of an uncompromising opponent of the Quebec scheme, yet an advocate of Union. While, however, my hostility to the Quebec resolutions has not diminished during the last eighteen moths the subject has been agitated, I am not prepared to assert that my attachment to the principle of Union during the same period, has not increased. Sir, I frankly admit that it has increased. I am more firmly convinced at the present moment than ever, of the desirability of a Union of British America. There are many reasons today that did not exist two years ago why every British American who is not insensible to the logic of events, should desire an Union that would tend to consolidate the strength, develop the resources, protect the rights, and promote the mutual interests of these provinces.
Sir, the Provinces of British North America are in no ordinary period of their history – and that man is heedless of the signs of the times – is heedless of events that are daily and hourly transpiring around him, who exhibits indifference to, or affects to disregard danger in, the present state of public affairs on this continent. I need no remind honourable gentlemen that the whole aspect of things around us have been changed within one short year. The neighbouring republic, twelve months ago, was in the throes of a death-struggle, which threatened its disruption, has since emerged from the ordeal, claiming the reputation of one of the first military nations of the world. Her military prestige will not diminish the characteristic arrogance of her international policy. It will certainly not lessen her disposition to offensiveness in her intercourse with foreign nations, as it has increased her necessities; it will not lessen her desire to aggrandize herself at the expense of her neighbours.
We have grounds of apprehension in this respect peculiar to ourselves. We know that the late war in America has created a feeling of animosity for some fancied grievances, among some classes of the American people towards Great Britain and these colonies. I need not specify these assumed grievances; they are familiar to everyone. They may culminate at no distant day in a war between the two countries. They have already culminated in a species of commercial warfare, aimed at the prosperity of British America. Does anyone doubt that the repeal of the Reciprocity Treaty is intended partly as a punishment of these provinces for their sympathy with the Southern States during the late struggle, and partly as an annoyance to Great Britain for her alleged bad faith as a neutral power?
But sir, there can be less doubt that it is chiefly relied on – I mean the repeal of the treaty, as a great means of fostering annexation sentiments in British North America. I shall prove this assertion presently beyond the possibility of doubt. Assuming it to be correct, is it not our duty to adopt such steps as may frustrate any such design?
Now, Sir, I ask what step is so likely to conduce to the result we have in view, as an union under one Government, which will give all these colonies a common policy, and a common platform of action? Isolation in relation to reciprocal trade, in the present crisis, has peculiar dangers. It gives the Washington authorities complete command of the whole situation. It gives them the power of playing us of against each other, of exciting jealousies, producing dissensions, and creating interests which can have but one tendency. No Government under the sun more thoroughly understands that game than the Government of the United States. They will play it to our ruin and their own advantage, if we leave the cards in their hands. I do not wish to go further in connection with this view of the subject, but it has had a powerful influence on my mind. It affords a most weighty argument in favour of immediate union.
I have said that the repeal of the Reciprocity Treaty is intended to produce annexation tendencies in British America. I think I can adduce evidence on this point so conclusive as to amount to a moral demonstration. Allow me, in the first place, to revert to the history of the Commercial Congress held last summer in Detroit, representing the great mercantile interests of the United States and British America. Need I remind honourable gentlemen that on that occasion an important functionary of the Washington government – a gentleman occupying the high position of American Consul at Montreal, the first city in British America, declared that he attended that Congress at the request of his government, and with authority to express their views and wishes with regard to reciprocal trade. He earnestly advised the abrogation of the treaty, and openly and insultingly told the colonial members of the Convention that the object of this policy was to produce the annexation of British America to the Republic.
We have, then, the fact that Mr. Potter went to Detroit, declaring himself in the confidence of his government, and the exponent of their views, and we all know that his utterances have never been disowned by his masters, and we have the further most important fact that on the first meeting of Congress, the policy that gentleman foreshadowed as that of the Washington government was carried out. If, then, Mr. Potter was correct in foreshadowing the policy of his government, is not the conclusion irresistible that he was equally correct as to the wishes and motives that were at the foundation of that policy? These significant facts cannot fail to make a due impression on the mind of every man who desires to maintain our connection with the Empire; and they strongly confirm my convictions not only of the desirability but of the necessity of Union.
We know from the newspaper press of the United States that the question of a union of British America has attracted considerable attention in that country, and that the proposal is generally received with little partiality. Those journals especially noted for their violent antipathy towards everything British do not conceal their hostility to the measure, and the grounds of that hostility. We find that those who oppose union are applauded as the friends of annexation, while those who advocate it receive very different treatment. Let me treat the house to an extract from a journal marked for the vileness and virulence of its abuse of Great Britain and these colonies – the N.Y. Herald – as indicative of the hopes entertained in that quarter as to the inevitable result of a refusal on our part to unite, and concentrate our strength. The Herald of the 10th of March last, referring to the repeal of the Reciprocity Treaty, says:
Meantime, the Provincials who have had a taste of the blessings of free trade with the ‘Yankees’ under this expiring Reciprocity Treaty, are called upon to consider the question of their ‘manifest destiny’ in the proposition from Queen Victoria for a North American Confederation under the vice-royalty of a member of her family. This movement contemplates a consolidation, which has already been declined by Nova Scotia and New Brunswick; but it is not thus to be abandoned. An agitation will be apt to follow, which in due time will gravitate to the easy, natural and advantageous solution of annexation to the United States.
Sir, there is something in this language that should arrest the attention of every man not blinded by party or other unworthy feelings. What is the meaning of this “agitation” with which we are threatened? Is the repeal of the Reciprocity Treaty merely the initiation of a systematic design to undermine our allegiance and annex us? Have the Government of the United States their agents in this country for this purpose, as insinuated by the Herald? If they have, it will not long remain a secret, for the hour of action is at hand, when we all must be judged by the sympathies we avow, and the company we keep. I am aware that no man would dare openly advocate annexation, but if there be any among us who desire it, they will take the more safe and insidious means of attaining their end by exciting disaffection on any pretext that will offer itself. The language of the Herald affords reasonable grounds for watchfulness, and it is only right that the country should be on its guard.
Now, sir, there is another consideration that has its just weight with me. The Imperial Government has spoken on this subject in terms not to be mistaken, and firmly and persistently urges on the people of British America the necessity for Union. I know there are persons who take very flippantly of the interference of Colonial Secretaries or the British Government, in our affairs. For my part, sir, while I would as readily as any one resist improper interference from any quarter in the public affairs of this Province, I would be sorry to deny the right of the Queen’s Government to use its just influence and authority in all matters of Imperial concern. Much less would I dream of anything so absurd as to dispute its right to deal with any measure affecting the integrity of the Empire. On all questions of this character, I, for one, am ready to yield the most respectful deference to this high authority.
The desire of Her Majesty’s Government for a union of the Colonies has received the most emphatic expression that could be given to it – it has been declared in three consecutive speeches from the Throne. Now, I ask this House, is there a colony under the crown that has greater reason to show deference to the just wishes of the British Government than the province of Nova Scotia?
Sir, do I require to point to the evidences of Imperial solicitude for our safety and welfare that are before everybody’s eyes? Walk out some fine morning and view the fortifications of this city, and get, as you can only get, an imperfect estimate of the immense treasure Great Britain has spent for the protection of this people. Visit that citadel, under whose shadow even now our slumbers are undisturbed – visit Point Pleasant, George’s Island, and a half dozen other places I could name. Extend your wanderings to the north end of this city, and see those magnificent structures – the Wellington Barracks, – visit the Ordnance and Dockyards – and then you will have only a very faint idea of the amount of treasure Great Britain has lavished upon us. How much does the army, supported here for our protection, spend among us? In a few short weeks the harbour of Halifax will be alive with the wooden walls of England. Her brave tars will be on the spot to protect our interests, and leave their last dollar with our people. Should these things be forgotten or winked out of sight at the present time?
But, sir, it is not alone in this way Great Britain has shown us favour. She has not only done everything for our protection and security, but she has given us the entire control of our local affairs – Responsible Government, and every liberty we enjoy having been got for the asking. Therefore, sir, as a Nova Scotian, I am ready to yield that deference to the wishes of the Imperial Government they have a right to expect. Their past treatment of this province is a guarantee that they desire to improve our condition by union. I have no hesitation in saying, that of all the dependencies of the Crown, Nova Scotia should be one of the most disposed to yield a deferential ear to Imperial counsels.
It may be said, sir, that my practice is inconsistent with my professions – that for the last eighteen months I have been opposing the policy of the British Government. I deny the imputation. I have never opposed that policy – on the contrary, I have advocated it. I consider there are only two classes in the Provinces who are in antagonism to the Imperial policy: those who are opposed to all union, and those, unwittingly so, yet equally hostile to that policy, who would force a scheme of union on the Maritime Provinces, which its opponents believe to be unjust, and its supporters know to be obnoxious to the great body of the people. Against that scheme public opinion has unmistakeably pronounced, and if forced upon us the result will be the opposite to that desired. The British Government have no especial partiality for the Quebec scheme; they desire an equitable union of British America, and instead of opposing, I have always advocated such a union.
There are on or two other matters to which I shall allude before turning my attention to the question I intend to ask. A few days ago this House went through all the solemn forms of a Conference with the other branch of the Legislature on a subject, the importance of which is admitted by every one – I allude to the protection of our Fisheries. What was the result of the deliberations of the joint committee of both Houses on that occasion? What means did they suggest for that great service? Their report has been placed on our table, and what does it advise? A humble petition to the Queen’s Government, praying for assistance.
In our necessities we rush to the Colonial Office for aid and protection, and yet there are those among us who deny any reciprocal duty on our part – any obligation even to listen respectfully to the wishes of British Ministers. We know that although we may buy a blockade runner, and vote a few thousand dollars for the service, our Fisheries can have no adequate protection if England refuses us her aid. Now, I ask, is it reasonable to expect a favourable answer to our petition if we refuse to comply, at such an important period in our history, with the request of Her Majesty’s Government?
Mr. Speaker, there is another subject to which I must refer, because its bearing on the question of Colonial Union is too palpable to escape the commonest observation. Everyone will admit that the clouds impending over our political horizon at the present time may justly excite the most serious apprehensions. An organization, at first regarded with contempt, has been called into existence on this continent which has lately assumed very formidable dimensions – I mean the Fenian Brotherhood.
A part of the avowed policy of this organization is the severance of the connection between these Colonies and Great Britain. The termination of the civil war in the United States has thrown loose on that country nearly half a million of daring and reckless men, with a taste for the license and excitement of military life, and a disrelish of the pursuits of peace. These men, from whom the Fenian recruits are chiefly drawn, are ready to embark in the most lawless and hazardous enterprises. The organization extends throughout the Northern and Western States, and boasts of having at its command any number of men and any amount of money for operations against the British Empire, which it seeks to dismember. It is not concealed that the vulnerable point through which this object [is] to be attained is British America.
Now, sir, perhaps this House will be astonished to learn that in the published platform of the Fenian organization, it is laid down as a leading object and duty of that body to prevent the consolidation of British power on this continent by the proposed union of these Provinces under one government. This fact has only come to my knowledge within a few weeks. I repeat, sir, it is laid down in the platform of the Fenian body as the paramount duty of every Fenian either in the United States or the British Provinces, to oppose and frustrate any union among us.
Therefore, I say that the man who now opposes union – I don’t mean the Quebec scheme – but who sets his face against all union actually endorses the leading principle of Fenianism! I do not believe there are a dozen men in Nova Scotia who would knowingly occupy this position, and I feel confident that when this fact is understood it will do much to popularize the Union sentiment in this Province, whose loyalty is proverbial.
If there is a single argument that will more than another touch the hearts of our loyal population, it is that the enemies of British power everywhere are hostile to this movement, and the fact should cause many of us to hesitate and enquire what is our true position. If we have any regard for our present happy condition, or any desire to continue our connection with Great Britain, it behoves us to set our house in order, and to see that we are not, in more ways than one, in the words of the New York Herald “gravitating towards annexation.” No one can doubt the patriotism of the people of Nova Scotia, and if a hostile raid were made upon any portion of our country, the invaders would meet with a reception they would not soon forget.
But who does not know that the favour and protection of Great Britain would be to use a source of greater security than maintaining a standing army of 100,000 men? With the power of the greatest Empire under the sun at our backs we could present a fearless front to all the world. If it were desirable for no other cause that these Provinces should be consolidated – than that we would thereby disappoint the enemies of our country, it should be a strong inducement to union. By when in addition to this fact by that step we would secure the protection of the mother country – when she only asks from us an act of just filial obedience to induce her to stretch forth her powerful arm to guard our property and rights – this ought certainly to be sufficient.
I say, therefore, in view of these facts – in view of the dangers which have developed themselves within the last few months, if we can obtain an equitable union, it is the duty of every man who desires to uphold British connexion – who is opposed to annexation – who has no sympathy with Fenians, and who does not wish to be consigned to the tender mercies of the lawless gang, to promote such an union of those provinces.
Now sir, holding the opinions I do in reference to this great question – advocating the principle of Union and opposing the Quebec Resolutions, I have been asked by the press of this country, and I admit not unfairly asked, to define my position. I have been asked to justify my conduct in opposing a scheme embodying a principle to which I am committed, without offering any other means of attaining the end I profess to have in view. Well, sir, I am here today to define my position, and to answer the other objections urged against me. I am also here to make an important enquiry of the Government.
As to my position, I am in favour of a Union – a Federal Union of these Provinces. I believe such a Union best suited to the exigencies of our situation. If a Legislative Union were practicable I would prefer adopting the Federal principle in forming a union of British America. Among the admirable speeches delivered some years ago, in this House, on this subject, that of the present Chief Justice, in which that able lawyer and shrewd politician contended that a Federal Union was best suited to our circumstances, appeared to me the most statesmanlike and sound.
Accepting, then, as I do, the principle of a federal union, I desire to ask the Government if there is no common ground on which the supporters of the Quebec scheme – abandoning that scheme – can meet the friends of an Union on more advantageous terms, and arrange the details of a measure that will be just and satisfactory to the people? I think there is a common ground – a ground on which I am willing to take my stand regardless of who follows me. If the Government will publicly abandon the Quebec scheme, and introduce a resolution in favour of a Federal Union of British America – leaving the details of the measure to the arbitrament of the Imperial government, properly advised by delegates from all the Provinces, I promise them my cordial support. This would be commencing rightly.
By getting the endorsement of the Legislature, in the outset, of the principle of Union, and its authority to enter on the settlement of the details of a scheme, the friends of the measure would occupy a very different position from that occupied by the delegates to the Quebec Conference, who went to Canada, in 1864, without any authority from Parliament. No small amount of opposition was at that time excited against confederation from this cause. It had much weight with myself and many others, who looked upon the action of the delegates as an improper usurpation of power.
Another conference on this side of the water has been suggested in certain quarters, but if we really desire a practical result, it cannot be entertained. To reopen negotiations here at the present time would be only to retard Union for some years to come. Besides I believe the most certain means of obtaining justice for the Maritime Provinces, would be to leave the settlement of details to the Imperial Government. I ask is there a tribunal in the world to which Nova Scotia might more confidently appeal for justice than to that august and impartial body? Its integrity – its wisdom – its intelligence are beyond dispute. I say that if there be a tribunal, where might will not prevail against right, it is the one I indicate. If we can get justice anywhere we will get it from that tribunal, and I ask does any Nova Scotian desire more than justice?
This subject has engaged the attention of the public men of Great Britain. It is well known in that country that the difficulties in the way of union are principally with the Maritime Provinces, and if we throw ourselves confidingly on the justice of the British Government, I believe we will receive even a partial arbitration of our rights. I know of no means by which we can more effectually conciliate the affections and secure the favourable consideration of the Queen’s Government than by thus proving our confidence in its justice, and our anxiety to meet its wishes. I therefore ask the leader of the Government, and through him the advocates of the Quebec scheme, whether they are so wedded to that scheme as to be unable to entertain the proposition I, as a friend of Colonial Union, now frankly make?
I will not deny that the extraordinary reaction that has taken place in New Brunswick in regard to Union, and the admitted partiality of a large majority of the people of Nova Scotia for the abstract principle, coupled with the firm but constitutional pressure of the Imperial authorities, afford grounds to apprehend that before very long even the Quebec Resolutions may be carried in the Maritime Provinces. The object of my present movement is – and I fearlessly avow it – to defeat the Quebec scheme. Before it is too late – before we are borne down by the powerful influences against which we are now contending – while yet we have a formidable army in the field – while our opponents respect our strength and hesitate at an engagement – is it not wise to seek the most advantageous terms of compromise?
Men of extreme views – men who desire to make this great subject a stalking horse on which to ride into office – in short, individuals “with other ends to serve,” may condemn the course I have taken, but no one values the censure or approval of such men. I shall lose nothing in severing my connection with them, while I feel my conduct will be generally sustained by the intelligent portion of my countrymen. But I do confess that this step may sever me politically and personally from a few gentlemen, sincere in their opposition to all union – whom I respect, and whose friendship I value. I shall regret it, but must frankly say, I desire to maintain no connexion, I am prepared to throw away any friendship, that can only be preserved at the sacrifice of my convictions.
If I have been marked for anything while I have been in this Assembly, it has been for independence of action, and fearlessness in the expression of my thoughts. I have never acknowledged allegiance to any leader or party in this House. I have never attended a party caucus in my life. Among the gentlemen I address, no one within the past two years has come more frequently into keen collision here and elsewhere with the occupants of the Treasury Benches than myself. I am certainly indebted to these gentlemen for no favours, and I can point to more than one act of personal and political injustice received at their hands. But, sir, I would be unworthy of my position in this Legislature, if I could allow considerations of this nature on one side or the other to control my action in the presence of a question of the highest magnitude.
I will not deny that I have some ambition as a public man, but my highest ambition will be gratified, if I can contribute a humble stone to the edifice of Colonial Union. Before, however, I can yield any assistance to the builders, the model of the proposed structure must be altered, and the whole design undergo the revision of an architect in whom I have confidence.
Sir, the hostility I have all along evinced to the Quebec scheme of Confederation has frequently been attributed to a desire to defeat the government, and thus promote my own political prospects. I trust that the course I have this day taken will be a sufficient answer to this charge. If such were my desire my end would be most certainly attained, in the present widespread hostility to that scheme, by maintaining the position I have occupied for the last eighteen months, without committing myself to any proposal for the solution of our difficulties. But as an avowed Unionist, such a course would be indefensible, and I am not willing to pursue any course I cannot defend. Nor do I seek any temporary triumph over my political opponents at the expense of the highest interests of my country.
If the government are animated by sentiments of moderation, justice and sound policy, they shall have my humble aid in the great work in which they are engaged. I hope we may find a common ground of cooperation in our efforts to improve our present condition of isolation and obscurity, and elevate Nova Scotia to the position nature intended her to occupy. But, sir, do not let me be supposed to underrate the present position of this Province. Far from it. Even as she is, I am proud of my country, and grateful for the happy homes she affords her sons.
Yet proud, sir, as I am of the little sea-girt province I call my native land; proud as I am of her free institutions – her moral status – her material wealth; proud as I am of the name of Nova Scotian – a name which the genius and valour of my countrymen have inscribed high on the scroll of fame; proud, I say as I am, and may well be permitted to be of these things, I have never ceased to entertain the hope, expressed in this legislature in 1864, that the day was not far distant, when you, sir, and I, and those who listen to me – in common with the inhabitants of these noble Provinces, united under one government, might stand before the world in the prouder national character of British Americans.
Charles Tupper, the Hon. Provincial Secretary replied:
I have listened with much gratification to the address which has just been delivered to this House by the honourable member for Richmond, and I confess that I am not surprised that, distasteful as the Quebec scheme of Union has been to many persons in this country, in the existing condition of public affairs in British North America, the attention of the strongest opponents of that scheme should be directed to the great question of what solution may be found for the difficulties of the position in which we are placed.
Having taken a part in maturing that great measure – having, on former occasions, felt it my duty to vindicate the scheme that was propounded for the consideration of British North America, I cannot be supposed to enter into the feelings of the honourable member for Richmond in his denunciation of that scheme.
I believed then, and I believe now, that the plan of Intercolonial Union that was propounded by the Conference at Quebec and which as obtained so marked a degree of favour and approval from Her Majesty’s Government, did afford the people of British North America the most ample guarantee for the rights and privileges of all sections. But I am not insensible to the fact that many objections have been raised against that scheme, and that many gentlemen who have taken a most prominent part in opposing various features of the measure, have in the Press, as the honourable member has in his place in Parliament, declared themselves in favour of a Union of British North America, that would be acceptable to the people of this country.
I am not, standing in the peculiar position I do, able, however, to give a direct and unequivocal statement of the views of the government or of the promoters of the Quebec scheme. The House is well aware that this question has from the first been submitted to the people as one in which the government divided the responsibility with gentlemen who were politically opposed to them. Occupying this position the government would have been not only wanting in courtesy to the gentlemen who had supported them, but would have failed in their duty in respect to a great public question, if they had ever treated it in a party aspect. In dealing with this question the government have always consulted the wishes and inclinations, and carried with them, the cooperation of the gentlemen who are politically opposed to them. Under these circumstances it would be impossible for me to state the views of the government, except on consultation with those who have acted with us, and are parties to the scheme of Union.
But as far as I may state without consultation, I believe that all the gentlemen who have been engaged in maturing the Quebec scheme have had no other desire than to meet the wishes and consult the best interests of their countrymen. They have always looked upon this question as too solemn in its character to allow it for a single moment to be influenced by any considerations except the welfare of the country.
I am not at all surprised at the statements made by the honourable member. The last twelve months have been pregnant with circumstances that must give an importance and an urgency to this question of Colonial Union such as it has never obtained before. In view of he altered condition of things I am not at all surprised that the most strenuous opponents of the Quebec scheme are ready to cooperate on some common ground on which they and the promoters of that scheme will be prepared, at any sacrifice that they can make consistently with the great objects to be obtained, to deal with this question with the gravity that its importance demands, and arrive at a consummation that will be acceptable to the great body of the people.
After the very remarkable address delivered by the honourable member for Richmond, I think it right at once to declare openly that the question asked by the honourable gentleman has taken this side of the House by surprise. When he comes to us and propounds a delegation to the Colonial office – invites the interposition of the Colonial Government to settle a question involving the rights and liberties of this people – asks the Home Government to arrange the question without reference to the people, I look at this honourable member with surprise, and recall the sentiments that he uttered on former occasions.
I feel strongly on this subject. It is an attempt to barter away, to sell the rights and liberties of the people. I do not know the influences that are at work, but I can imagine them.
I never expected to live to see the time when, on the floors of this Parliament, a gentleman could arise and ask that our condition should be decided – where? Not in your own Parliament, but by gentlemen sent across the water with carte blanche to settle the whole matter.
The honourable member says he is in favour of the abstract principle of Union. I may or may not be in favour of it, but I cannot be a party to send the question for a final decision to the Colonial office. We know that the Canadian element is predominant there, and these Maritime Provinces, however largely represented, would have little influence. The scheme that would come back would be substantially that of Quebec.
I could have understood the honourable member had he proposed – and the proposal may be in harmony with my own views – a Convention of all the Provinces, called with the sanction of the Crown, in British North America. Such a Convention would consider the whole question, and come to an agreement, which would then be submitted to the people. If he had proposed some such scheme as that, I could have understood the honourable member; but to take the whole question from this House is what can never be agreed to by the people.
I do not misinterpret the feeling of this country when I say that there is a universal feeling against any union with Canada. I do not say that this feeling is wise – there may be a good deal of prejudice mixed up with it; but to follow the course proposed would be to destroy all hopes of unity.
I am surprised at the motion of the honourable member, but I apprehend the result. The Government are only too glad to see a way of getting out of their present difficulties. However, I know if there is a lack of patriotism and intelligence in this House, it is not the case elsewhere. Feeling that, I do not hesitate to say this: A Union of these Provinces, consummated in this way, contrary to the wishes of the people, will not be worth the paper upon which it is recorded.