The forgotten fathers of Confederation yielded a letter, and another writer decried the absence of political heroism. I couldn’t agree more with Andrew Coyne on his views regarding the all-but-forgotten George Brown. If it were not for Reformers such as Brown, Baldwin, La Fontaine and Mackenzie, we would not have had a Confederation nor look the way we do now as a country. Through their relentless fighting for equality, the elimination of the privileged position of the Church and representation by population, the ground was set for Confederation.
The marriage of Canadian Confederation often cracks along French-English lines. The two solitudes spent centuries as ferocious rivals in Europe and in North America, before their colonial offshoots. Dorion believed the grand union of the British North American colonies, an idea then being considered, would fail. “I oppose Confederation because I foresee innumerable difficulties with the joint powers given to the local and general governments in several areas,” according to a translation of his French comments. “These conflicts will always be resolved in favour of the general government and to the detriment of the often legitimate claims of the provinces.” Joseph Howe Nova Scotia flourished as a British colony with a healthy sense of independence dating back to the early 1700s; risking that prosperity to merge with Canada struck many as a terrible idea. Halifax-born Joseph Howe deployed his supreme oratorical and writing skills to keep Nova Scotia out of Confederation.
This is the twelfth post in a two week series in partnership with Canada Watch on the Confederation Debates By Gabrielle Slowey In 2015 Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation. Today Canadians are on a journey to reconciliation because in the 1860s the Fathers of Confederation had no regard for the rights or interests of Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (what most of us call Canada). What is most striking, though not surprising, is the absence of Indigenous peoples (and perspectives) from the debates in the Canadian Parliament in 1865. At that time, Indigenous people comprised many sovereign nations, all of which had very different political, economic, and social structures. They were self-governing, with sophisticated land and resource management regimes. There were multiple Indigenous nations spread across the country, some having already negotiated “peace and friendship treaties.” In the 1860s, the Indigenous peoples in the Prairies, much of British Columbia, and the North still dominated the local economies, and maintained their access to buffalo, fish, and fur-bearing animals. This access would diminish after Confederation. In 1865 Indigenous constitutions and Indigenous laws were rooted in a deep and reciprocal relationship with the land that prioritized people, place, animals, nature, and respect for the earth. Indigenous scholar Kiera Ladner contends that, despite Canadian claims of sovereignty, Indigenous constitutional visions did not simply disappear. Rather, the new state acquired lands, rights, and resources through what she terms “magical ways.” Even though Indigenous peoples were absent from the minds of those that would ultimately lay the foundations for the Canadian nation, Indigenous lands (and the resources contained therein) were not. Indeed, the opposite: Indigenous lands were and remain central to the Canadian Confederation project.