Documents de l’histoire du Québec / Quebec History Documents
Quebec and Confederation
The Scheme of Confederation
We said yesterday that we did not see, in the scheme of Union prepared by the Conference, the faults and the germs of future trouble which would have existed in a Union on the plan of the United States. There is good cause for the distinction which we drew, as we believe a brief explanation will show.
For this purpose we desire first to call the attention of our readers to the position of the two races in Lower Canada. In some degree our arguments apply to the people of all the colonies, but our own is the strongest example. The French Canadians view with a very natural distrust their absorption into a state nearly two-thirds Protestant, and much more than two-thirds speaking the English tongue. The British Canadians have feared, not with less show of reason, the confiding to a Lower Canada local legislature, made up of four-fifths French Canadians – interests of theirs which they regard as of great importance. Our statesmen were forced to set to work to reconcile these conflicting views and furnish to each section of the population grounds of confidence in protection from hostile legislation. It was very well of Sir Richard Macdonnell to deprecate a union full of checks and guarantees bred of distrust, and to urge us to mutual confidence. It was very genial and pleasant in an after-dinner speech, but not exactly statesmanship! The British people are very loyal to the Crown, but their Constitution is one of jealous checks and guarantees against regal power. A young lady may love her intended never so much and be ready to trust him in all things, yet her papa or guardian, however, willingly assenting to the match, looks not the less sharply after the marriage settlements. Mutual confidence and esteem are good things, but prudence and forethought are also very good things.
The French Canadians have professed a fear for their religion; for their language; for their institutions – by which, we suppose, they mean their civil law, now shortly to be embodied in a code. Their religion is protected by treaty. It never could be successfully assailed while the Sovereign of Great Britain is recognized as our supreme authority. That is solemnly done in the proposed Constitutional Act. It will be in less danger from the new Parliament, which clearly renounces all right to touch it, than from a continuance of the present Canadian Union with increased representation to the Western section, a change which has now become inevitable.
The use of their language in the general Parliament and in Lower Canada is guaranteed to them by the scheme drafted by the Conference. Their local institutions, shared in common with us, are to be protected by a legal legislature and local judiciary vested with full powers for that purpose. Whence then and to what interest can they look for danger? It is the mere chimera of zealots or the distempered fancy of boys that breeds any terror among the French Canadian people. Some cunning men feign a fear they do not feel (?) in order to breed distrust and hinder this scheme, because it is at once Ministerial and anti-annexationist.
Turn we to the other side. The British population have to a very great extent the leading interests of the country in hand. These interests are vented in the Parliament in which our race has the majority. Trade, banking, currency, insolvency, customs, tariffs, all these things are matter to be dealt with by Parliament not by local legislatures. Immigration is placed concurrently in the power of both. Naturalization is to be regulated by Parliament. But Education, the public lands and judiciary are handed over to the local legislatures, and therefore we admit that the Protestants of the Lower and Catholics of the Upper Provinces need some checks and guarantees. These are thus provided. The Lieut. Governor is to be an officer of the Confederate Government, removable at its discretion. There is a provision in our present Constitutional (the Union) Act by which bills past by the Provincial Parliament may be disallowed by the Sovereign within a certain limited period, and to the end that the Imperial Parliament may be enlightened on the subject, they are ordered to be sent over to lie on the tables of the two Houses. That provision will be continued with respect to our new Parliament; and a similar provision will regulate the relations between it and the local legislatures. We have besides a special guarantee of the preservation of the rights of minorities in educational matters. And there will not only be an appeal from local Courts to the Privy Council as now, – that being the inalienable right of every British subject – but, we believe, there will also be a Court of Appeal for the Confederation, established within the country. We cannot see therefore, how it is possible for the French Canadian majority (even if desirous of doing so) to assail any of our interests. Any such aggressive legislation would be sure to be disallowed. On the other hand, although there is in these respects a species of subordination of the local to the general Government – yet seeing that both local and general Governments are to derive their powers from the same source – Imperial legislation, – the Parliament will be absolutely precluded by its very Constitution from legislating aggressively against the French Canadians. Acting together, then, English speaking and French speaking Canadians will be able to do anything, acting aggressively against each other will be effectually baffled by constitutional obstacles. Progress may indeed be thus at times somewhat impeded, but no one will be exposed to injustice.
Source: “The Scheme of Confederation.” Montreal Gazette. November 3,1864, p. 2.
Article transcribed by Joelle Krasny; revision by Claude Bélanger.
© 2009 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College